Odors as cues for orientation to mothers by weanling Virginia opossums

Abstract

Three experiments were conducted to investigate whether wholebody and pouch odors facilitate social cohesion between young Virginia opossums and their mothers just prior to weaning. In experiment 1, young oriented toward plastic buckets containing their mothers, directing significantly higher levels of investigative behavior and more distress vocalizations toward them than toward buckets containing unrelated lactating females. In experiment 2, young oriented toward and investigated empty buckets containing whole-body odors of their mothers more than empty buckets containing odors of other females. Similarly, more investigative behavior was directed toward plastic bucket lids containing pouch odors from subjects' mothers than toward pouch odors from unrelated females in experiment 3. These results suggest that social odors help young didelphid marsupials maintain contact with their mothers, as in other mammals, and that whole-body and pouch gland odors are important chemical signals in this nongregarious species.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

References

  1. Austad, S.N. 1992. Retarded senescence in an insular population of Virginia opossums (Didelphis virginiana).J. Zool. In press.

  2. Bernstein, I.S. 1991. An empirical comparison of focal and ad libitum scoring with commentary on instantaneous scans, all occurrence and one-zero techniques.Anim. Behav. 42:721–728.

    Google Scholar 

  3. Boggs, J. 1969. The general and agonistic behavior of the mouse opossum,Marmosa robinsoni. MS thesis. San Diego State University, San Diego, California, 80 pp.

    Google Scholar 

  4. Brown, R.E., andMacdonald, D.W. (eds.) 1985. Social Odours in Mammals, Vol. I. Clarendon Press, Oxford, U.K.

    Google Scholar 

  5. Eisenberg, J.F. 1975. Phylogeny, behavior and ecology in the Mammalia, pp. 47–68,in W.P. Luckett and F.S. Szalay (eds.). Phylogeny of Primates. Plenum Press, New York.

    Google Scholar 

  6. Fadem, B.H. 1989. The effects of pheromonal stimuli on estrus and peripheral plasma estradiol in female gray short-tailed opossums (Monodelphis domestica).Biol. Reprod. 41:213–217.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  7. Fadem, B.H., andCole, E.A. 1985. Scent-marking in the grey short-tailed opossum (Monodelphis domestica).Anim. Behav. 33:730–738.

    Google Scholar 

  8. Fadem, B.H., andSchwartz, R.A. 1986. A sexually dimorphic scent gland in gray short-tailed opossums (Monodelphis domestica).J. Mammal 67:205–208.

    Google Scholar 

  9. Fitch, M.W., andShirer, H.W. 1970. A radiotelemetric study of spatial relationships in the opossum.Am. Midl. Nat. 84:170–186.

    Google Scholar 

  10. Gardner, A.L. 1982. Virginia opossum, pp. 3–36,in J.A. Chapman and G.A. Feldhamer (eds.). Wild Mammals of North America. John Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, Maryland.

    Google Scholar 

  11. Gillette, L.N. 1980. Movement patterns of radio-tagged opossums in Wisconsin.Am. Midl. Nat. 104:1–12.

    Google Scholar 

  12. Hartman, C. 1923. Breeding habits, development and birth of the opossum.Smithson. Rep. 1921:347–364.

    Google Scholar 

  13. Holmes, D.J. 1987. Social complexity and potential for chemocommunication in captive Virginia opossums,Didelphis virginiana Kerr. PhD dissertation. Bowling Green State University, Bowling Green, Ohio, 195 pp.

    Google Scholar 

  14. Holmes, D.J. 1990. Social and other correlates of scent marking in captive Virginia opossums,Didelphis virginiana Kerr. pp. 451–458,in D.W. Macdonald, S. Natynczuk and D. MüllerSchwarze (eds.). Chemical Signals in Vertebrates 5. Oxford University Press, Oxford, United Kingdom.

    Google Scholar 

  15. Holmes, D.J. 1991. Social behavior in captive Virginia opossums,Didelphis virginiana.J. Mammal. 72:402–410.

    Google Scholar 

  16. Holmes, D.J. 1992. Sternal odors as cues for social discrimination by female Virginia opossums,Didelphis virginiana.J. Mammal. 73:286–291.

    Google Scholar 

  17. Holmes Meisner, D. 1986. Histology and gross morphology of the sexually dimorphic sternal gland in the North American opossum,Didelphis virginiana Kerr. pp. 579–585,in D. Duvall, D. Müller-Schwarze, and R.M. Silverstein (eds.). Chemical Signals in Vertebrates 4: Ecology, Evolution, and Comparative Biology. Plenum, New York.

    Google Scholar 

  18. McManus, J.J. 1970. Behavior of captive opossums,Didelphis marsupialis virginiana.Am. Midl. Nat. 84:144–169.

    Google Scholar 

  19. McManus, J.J. 1971. Activity of captiveDidelphis marsupialis.J. Mammal 52:846–848.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  20. Reynolds, H.C. 1952. Studies on reproduction in the opossum (Didelphis virginiana).Univ. Calif. Publ. Tool. 52:223–275.

    Google Scholar 

  21. Rhine, R.J., andFlanigan, M. 1978. An empirical comparison of one-zero, focal-animal and instantaneous methods of sampling spontaneous primate social behavior.Primates 19:352–361.

    Google Scholar 

  22. Russell, E.M. 1984. Social behaviour and social organization of marsupials.Mammal Rev. 14:101–154.

    Google Scholar 

  23. Russell, E.M. 1985. The metatherians: Order Marsupialia. pp. 45–104,in R.E. Brown and D.W. Macdonald (eds.). Social Odours in Mammals. Clarendon Press, Oxford, U.K.

    Google Scholar 

  24. Ryser, J. 1990. The mating system, ecology, and biology of the Virginia opossum,Didelphis virginiana, in north-central Florida. PhD dissertation. Universität Bern, Switzerland, 133 pp.

    Google Scholar 

  25. Seidensticker, J., O'Connell, andJohnsingh, A.J.T. 1987. Virginia opossum, pp. 247–261,in M. Novak, J.A. Baker, M.E. Obbard, and B. Malloch (eds.). Wild Furbearer Management and Conservation in North America. Ministry of Natural Resources, Ontario.

    Google Scholar 

  26. Sharman, G.B., andCalaby, J.H. 1964. Reproductive behavior in the red kangaroo,Megaleia rufa, in captivity.CSIRO Wildl. Res. 9:58.

    Google Scholar 

  27. Stoddart, D.M. 1980. The Ecology of Vertebrate Olfaction. Chapman and Hall, London.

    Google Scholar 

  28. Sunquist, M.E., Austad, S.N., andSunquist, F. 1987. Movement patterns and home range in the common opossum (Didelphis marsupialis).J. Mammal. 68:3–6.

    Google Scholar 

  29. Wright, D.D. 1989. Mortality and dispersal of juvenile opossums,Didelphis virginiana. MS thesis. University of Florida, Gainesville, 100 pp.

    Google Scholar 

  30. Zar, J.H. 1984. Biostatistical Analysis. Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, 718 pp.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Donna J. Holmes.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Holmes, D.J. Odors as cues for orientation to mothers by weanling Virginia opossums. J Chem Ecol 18, 2251–2259 (1992). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00984948

Download citation

Key Words

  • Didelphis virginiana
  • Didephidae
  • maternal-young recognition
  • maternal odors
  • pouch glands
  • Virginia opossum