acta ethologica

, Volume 7, Issue 1, pp 1–7 | Cite as

Meadow voles and prairie voles differ in the percentage of conspecific marks they over-mark

  • Michael H. Ferkin
  • Hong Z. Li
  • Stuart T. Leonard
Original Article


Many terrestrial mammals scent mark in areas containing the scent marks of conspecifics, and thus, may deposit their own scent marks on top of those that were deposited previously by conspecifics. This phenomenon, known as over-marking appears to play a role in same-sex competition or mate attraction. The present study determines whether meadow and prairie voles avoid over-marking the scent marks of conspecifics, target the scent marks of conspecifics and over-mark them, or randomly over-mark the scent marks of conspecifics. The data show that meadow and prairie voles adjust the number and location of scent marks that they deposit in areas marked previously by particular conspecifics. Male and female meadow and prairie voles target the scent marks of opposite-sex conspecifics and over-mark them. Female meadow and prairie voles also target the scent marks of female conspecifics. In contrast, male meadow and prairie voles over-mark the scent marks of male conspecifics in a random manner. By differentially over-marking the scent marks of conspecifics, voles may be able to communicate particular information to a variety of conspecifics.


Voles Microtus Over-marking Scent communication 


  1. Biben M (1980) Over-marking of alien conspecific odors by Mongolian gerbils. Biol Behav 5:139–145Google Scholar
  2. Boonstra R, Xia X, Pavone L (1993) Mating system of the meadow vole, Microtus pennsylvanicus. Behav Ecol 4:83–89Google Scholar
  3. Brown RE, Macdonald DW (eds) (1985) Social odours in mammals, vols 1 and 2. Oxford University Press, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  4. Carter CS, Getz LL (1993) Monogamy and the prairie vole. Sci Am 268:100–106PubMedGoogle Scholar
  5. Cohen AB, Johnston RE, Kwon A (2001) How golden hamsters (Mesocricetus auratus) discriminate top from bottom flank scents in over-marks. J Comp Psychol 115:241–247CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  6. Daly M (1977) Some experiments on the functional significance of scent marking in gerbils (Meriones unguiculatus). J Physiol Comp Psychol 91:1082–1094Google Scholar
  7. Desjardins C, Maruniak JA, Bronson FH (1973) Social rank in house mice: differentiation revealed by ultraviolet visualization of urinary marking patterns. Science 182:939–941PubMedGoogle Scholar
  8. Dewsbury DA (1990) Individual attributes generate contrasting degrees of sociality in voles. In: Tamarin RH, Ostfeld RS, Pugh SR, Bujalska G (eds) Social systems and population cycles in voles. Birkhauser, Basel, pp 1–9Google Scholar
  9. Ferkin MH (1999a) Meadow voles (Microtus pennsylvanicus, Arvicolidae), over-mark and adjacent mark the scent marks of same-sex conspecifics. Ethology 105:825–837Google Scholar
  10. Ferkin MH (1999b) Over-marking and adjacent-marking may be used as competitive tactics during odor communication in voles. In: Johnston RE, Muller-Schwarze D, Sorenson PW (eds) Advances in chemical signals in vertebrates, number 8. Plenum, New York, pp 239–246Google Scholar
  11. Ferkin MH (2001) The response of individuals to over-marks of conspecifics differs between two species of microtine rodents. In: Marchlewska-Koj A, Lepri JJ, Muller-Schwarze D (eds) Chemical signals in vertebrates, vol 9. Plenum, New York, pp 343–346Google Scholar
  12. Ferkin MH, Dunsavage J, Johnston RE (1999) What kind of information do meadow voles, Microtus pennsylvanicus, use to distinguish between the odors of the top and bottom-scent donors of an over-mark? J Comp Psychol 113:43–51CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Ferkin MH, Mech SG, Paz-y-Mino CG (2001a) Scent marking in meadow voles and prairie voles: a test of three hypotheses. Behaviour 138:1319–1336CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Ferkin MH, Leonard ST, Bartos K, Schmick MK (2001b) Meadow voles and prairie voles differ in the length of time they prefer the top-scent donor of an over-mark. Ethology 107:1099–1014Google Scholar
  15. Ferkin MH, Lee DN, Leonard ST (2004) The reproductive state of female voles affects their scent marking behavior and the responses of male conspecifics to such marks. Ethology 110:257–272CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Getz LL, Carter CS (1996) Prairie vole partnerships. Am Sci 84:56–62Google Scholar
  17. Gosling LM (1985) The even-toed ungulates: Artiodactlya. In: Brown RE, Macdonald DW (eds) Social odours in mammals, vols 1 and 2. Oxford University Press, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  18. Gosling LM, Roberts SC (2001) Scent marking in male mammals: cheat-proof signals to competitors and mates. Adv Stud Behav 30:169–217Google Scholar
  19. Heymann EW (1998) Sex differences in olfactory communication in a primate, the moustached tamarin, Saginus mystax (Callitrichinae). Behav Ecol Sociobiol 43:37–45CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Hurst JL (1990a) Urine marking in populations of wild house mice, Mus domesticus Rutty. I. Communication between males. Anim Behav 40:209–222Google Scholar
  21. Hurst JL (1990b) Urine marking in populations of wild house mice, Mus domesticus Rutty. II. Communication between females. Anim Behav 40:223–232Google Scholar
  22. Hurst JL (1990c) Urine marking in populations of wild house mice, Mus domesticus Rutty. III. Communication between the sexes. Anim Behav 40:233–243Google Scholar
  23. Johnston RE (1999) Scent over-marking: how do hamsters know whose scent is on top and why should it matter. In: Johnston RE, Muller-Schwarze D, Sorenson PW (eds) Advances in chemical signals in vertebrates, number 8. Plenum, New York, pp 227–238Google Scholar
  24. Johnston RE (2001) Scent over-marking: a sexually selected trait with specialized mechanisms for scent deposition and perception. Presentation at the 81st American Society of Mammalogist Meeting, 16–20 June 2001, Missoula, Mont.Google Scholar
  25. Johnston RE, Bhorade A (1998) Perception of scent over-marks by golden hamsters (Mesocricetus auratus). Novel mechanisms for determining which individual’s mark is on top. J Comp Psychol 112:230–243CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  26. Johnston RE, Chiang G, Tung C (1994) The information in scent over-marks of golden hamsters. Anim Behav 48:323–330CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Johnston RE, Munver R, Tung C (1995) Scent counter marks: selective memory for the top scent by golden hamsters. Anim Behav 49:1435–1442CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Johnston RE, Sorokin ES, Ferkin MH (1997a) Scent counter-marking by male meadow voles: females prefer the top-scent male. Ethology 103:443–453Google Scholar
  29. Johnston RE, Sorokin ES, Ferkin MH (1997b) Female voles discriminate males’ over-marks and prefer top-scent males. Anim Behav 54:679–690CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  30. Kohli KL, Ferkin MH (1999) Over-marking and adjacent marking are influenced by sibship in prairie voles, Microtus ochrogaster. Ethology 105:1–11Google Scholar
  31. Leonard ST, Ferkin MH, Johnson MM (2001) The response of meadow voles to an over-mark in which the two donors differ in gonadal hormone status. Anim Behav 62:1171–1177CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Macdonald DW (1980) Patterns of scent marking with urine and feces among carnivore communities. Symp Zool Soc Lond 45:107–139Google Scholar
  33. Madison DM (1980) An integrated view of the social biology of meadow voles, Microtus pennsylvanicus. Biologist 62:20–33Google Scholar
  34. McGregor PK (1993) Signaling in territorial systems: a context for individual recognition, ranging, and eavesdropping. Philos Trans R Soc Lond B 340:237–244Google Scholar
  35. McGuire B, Pizzuto T, Getz LL (1990) Potential for social interaction in a natural population of prairie voles (Microtus ochrogaster). Can J Zool 68:391–398Google Scholar
  36. Rich TJ, Hurst JL (1999) The competing counter-marks hypothesis: reliable assessment of competitive ability by potential mates. Anim Behav 58:1027–1037CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  37. Rozenfeld FM, LeBoulenge E, Rasmont R (1987) Urine marking by male bank voles (Clethrionomys glareolus Schreber, 1780; Microtidae, Rodentia) in relation to social rank. Can J Zool 65:2549–2601Google Scholar
  38. Smith WJ (1998) Cognitive implications of information-sharing model of animal communication. In: Balda RP, Pepperberg IM, Kamil AC (eds) Animal cognition in nature. Academic, New York, pp 227–244Google Scholar
  39. Sokal RR, Rohlf JF (1995) Biometry, 3rd edn. Freeman, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  40. Tang-Martinez Z, Mueller LL, Taylor GT (1993) Individual odours and mating success in the golden hamster, Mesocricetus auratus. Anim Behav 45:1141–1151CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Thiessen DD, Rice M (1976) Mammalian scent gland marking and social behavior. Psychol Bull 83:505–539CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  42. Thomas SA, Kaczmarek BK (2002) Scent-marking behaviour by prairie voles, Microtus ochrogaster, in response to the scent of opposite- and same-sex conspecifics. Behav Process 60:27–33CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Thomas SA, Wolff JO (2002) Scent marking in voles: a reassessment of over marking, counter marking, and self-advertisement. Ethology 108:51–62Google Scholar
  44. Wolff JO (1993) Why are female small mammals territorial? Oikos 68:364–370Google Scholar
  45. Wolff JO, Mech SG, Thomas SA (2002) Scent marking in female prairie voles: a test of alternative hypotheses. Ethology 108:483–494Google Scholar
  46. Woodward RL Jr, Schmick MK, Ferkin MH (1999) Response of prairie voles, Microtus ochrogaster (Rodentia, Arvicolidae), to scent over-marks of two same-sex conspecifics: a test of the scent masking hypothesis. Ethology 105:1009–1017Google Scholar
  47. Woodward RL Jr, Bartos K, Ferkin MH (2000) Different response of meadow voles (Microtus pennsylvanicus) and prairie voles (M. ochrogaster) to over-marks from opposite- and same-sex conspecifics. Ethology 106:979–992Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag and ISPA 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  • Michael H. Ferkin
    • 1
  • Hong Z. Li
    • 1
  • Stuart T. Leonard
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Biology, Ellington HallThe University of MemphisMemphisUSA

Personalised recommendations