Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 42, Issue 6, pp 411–421 | Cite as

To whom it may concern: the transmission and function of chemical signals in Lemur catta

  • Peter M. Kappeler


The goals of this study were to investigate the transmission and possible functions of chemical signals in intragroup communication among ring-tailed lemurs, Lemur catta. In particular, I examined the effects of sex on these processes because sexual selection theory predicts specific functions for chemical signals. I recorded all interactions with 214 scent marks of 11 male and 9 female ring-tailed lemurs during the first 10 min following their deposition. I found that 62% of these scent marks were investigated with a median latency of 30 s and that 89% of investigated scents were also counter-marked by the receiver. The type of focal scent mark (male or female anogenital and male antebrachial mark) had a significant effect on both the timing and type of response. Males investigated and counter-marked female scents more often than vice versa, but significant second-order transitions suggested that the behavior of an animal was not only influenced by the immediately preceding scent mark and that a scent is not completely masked by a counter-mark. There was no evidence for an audience effect, and only social rank of female senders had an effect on receivers. Variation in the response of receivers across reproductive seasons as a function of senders' sex indicated that female scents may function in mate attraction and competition among females, whereas male scents may be primarily used in intrasexual competition. Three main conclusions emerged. First, the exchange of olfactory signals within groups was highly structured and surprisingly efficient. Second, olfactory signals may constitute general mesasages whose transfer is partly controlled by the receiver. Finally, sexual selection theory provides a useful theoretical framework for functional examinations of mammalian olfactory communication.

Key words Communication Olfaction Sexual selection Lemur catta Primates 


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 1998

Authors and Affiliations

  • Peter M. Kappeler
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Zoology, Duke University, Durham, NC 27708, USAUS

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