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CHEMOECOLOGY

, Volume 1, Issue 3–4, pp 92–95 | Cite as

Scent-rubbing and status signalling by male mammals

  • L. Morris Gosling
  • Helen V. McKay
Research papers

Summary

There is no consensus about the function of scent-rubbing, a widespread behaviour in which mammals rub their bodies vigorously in substances, many strong-smelling and some artificial, such as rotting meat, intestinal contents and engine oil. Here we suggest that scent-rubbing is involved in status advertisement and that, as in assessment using scent marks, the mechanism used by competitors to assess potential opponents may be scent-matching. In scent-matching a resource holder is assessed (identified) by comparing its odour with odours on or near the defended resource. In scent marking the odour originates from the resource holder (glandular secretion, urine and faeces); in scent-rubbing the odour originates in the environment.

A prerequisite of unambiguous scent-matching is that the odour of scent-marks should be uniquely characteristic of one individual. This may be why marking substances are very complex chemically. Scent-rubbing often occurs with scent-marking and, rather than acting independently of scent-marking, the odours acquired may either (i) add to the complexity of the signal, thus reducing signal ambiguity, or (ii) increase the range of the signal by adding a strong smelling component.

Subordinates could potentially cheat by rubbing in the same odours as the resource holder. Resource holders could prevent cheating (i) by checking other status cues and by testing competitors whose scent matches, then escalating contests when the competitor's fighting ability (more formally, Resource Holding Power) proves to be lower than that of a resource holder and (ii) by mixing the substances used for scent-rubbing with the unique substances used in scent-marking.

Key words

scent-rubbing scent-marking scent-matching resource holders territories Mammalia 

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Copyright information

© Georg Thieme Verlag Stuttgart 1990

Authors and Affiliations

  • L. Morris Gosling
    • 1
  • Helen V. McKay
    • 1
  1. 1.Mammal Ecology Group, Central Science LaboratoryMinistry of Agriculture, Fisheries and FoodNorwichUnited Kingdom

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