Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 63, Issue 10, pp 1539–1547 | Cite as

Digit length ratio (2D/4D): comparing measurements from X-rays and photographs in field voles (Microtus agrestis)

  • Thomas LilleyEmail author
  • Toni Laaksonen
  • Otso Huitu
  • Samuli Helle


The ratio of second-to-fourth digit length (2D/4D) has been suggested to be a useful adult age marker of intrauterine exposure to steroids because it should be sexually dimorphic and fixed already in utero. Numerous studies mainly on humans have supported this conclusion, but it is yet unclear how well this applies to other vertebrates. This information would be especially valuable to field biologists to whom measuring steroids in utero is often impossible. The non-human studies conducted so far have yielded inconsistent results, perhaps due to the variety of different methods employed in measuring 2D/4D. We examined the age and sex dependency and lateral asymmetry of 2D/4D in field voles (Microtus agrestis) and compared whether these effects differed between 2D/4D measurements taken from photographs and X-rays. Our results show that 2D/4D measurements from photos had a higher measurement error and gave consistently higher 2D/4D than those from X-rays. According to both measurement methods, the right paw showed higher 2D/4D values than the left paw (lateral asymmetry). Adult voles had a lower 2D/4D than juveniles when measured from X-rays, but not when measured from photographs. We found no evidence for a sex difference in 2D/4D using either of the measurement methods. Our findings thus suggest that X-rays, due to their greater accuracy, should be preferred over photographs for measuring digit ratios in rodents. Our results also indicate that in this species, 2D/4D is laterally asymmetric, but it may not be either fixed in utero or sexually dimorphic. In conclusion, 2D/4D appears to be a rather species- and method-specific measure and researchers should be careful when generalising its applicability to study early hormonal effects in vertebrates.


Phenotypic marker Intrauterine Steroids Early development Maternal effect 



We thank J. Paranko for help during the study and M. Lilley and anonymous reviewers for commenting on the manuscript. This study was funded by the Finnish Cultural Foundation (S.H. and T.Lilley) and the Academy of Finland (grant no. 106036 to O.H. and grant no. 209108 to T. Laaksonen).


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Thomas Lilley
    • 1
    Email author
  • Toni Laaksonen
    • 1
  • Otso Huitu
    • 2
  • Samuli Helle
    • 1
  1. 1.Section of Ecology, Department of BiologyUniversity of TurkuTurkuFinland
  2. 2.Finnish Forest Research InstituteSuonenjoki Research UnitSuonenjokiFinland

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