Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 58, Issue 5, pp 437–445 | Cite as

The neglected scent: on the marking function of urine in Lemur catta

  • E. PalagiEmail author
  • L. Dapporto
  • S. Borgognini Tarli
Original Article


In ring-tailed lemurs (Lemur catta) urine deposition can be combined with two different tail configurations: (i) tail held up in an evident display (urinate tail-up, UT-up); (ii) tail slightly raised to avoid its impregnation with urine (urinate tail-down, UT-down). We used both signaller- and receiver-based approaches to search for functional differences between these two kinds of urine deposition. We predicted that UT-up might be a complex signal combining olfactory and visual cues. We carried out observations and scent tests on four captive groups of ring-tailed lemurs. Group members sniffed/licked UT-up scents more frequently than UT-down ones. Moreover, UT-up showed peak levels during the mating season whereas UT-down did not. These findings suggest that urine can play a role in intra-group reproductive communication. Lemurs more frequently performed UT-up in a few drops and UT-down in streams. Recognition experiments clearly showed that individuals can discriminate between urine of their own group and urine from a foreign group (a necessary prerequisite for the use of urine in inter-group communication). The possible function of UT-up in inter-troop communication was supported by the higher frequency of this pattern along a fence separating two of the study groups. Moreover, in the presence of a dummy, the frequency of UT-up increased significantly. In conclusion, UT-up is a complex signal with multiple characteristics. By using different sensory channels, UT-up provides different types of information (location and signaller quality) and contains multiple messages directed both at group-members and neighbouring groups.


Complex signal Inter-group communication Intra-group communication Lemur catta Urine marking 



Thanks are due to Paolo Cavicchio (Giardino Zoologico Città di Pistoia, Pistoia, Italy), Iole Palanca, Renato Piccinini (Parco Zoo di Falconara, Falconara Marittima, AN, Italy), Maria Rodeano (Parco Zoo Punta Verde, Lignano Sabbiadoro, UD, Italy) for allowing and facilitating this work, Ruth Curreli, Sabrina Telara and Alessandro Pardini for helping with data collection, Eckhard Heymann and Anne Mertl for their critical revision, Peter Kappeler and two anonymous referees for improving the manuscript, Tommaso Paoli and Ivan Norscia for useful suggestions, and to Isabel Behncke for language revision. This research was funded by Giardino Zoologico Città di Pistoia, Parco Zoo di Falconara, Parco Zoo Punta Verde, and the University of Pisa. All the experimental procedures conformed to Italian law


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Centro Interdipartimentale Museo di Storia Naturale e del TerritorioUniversità di PisaCalci, PisaItaly
  2. 2.Dipartimento di Etologia, Ecologia ed EvoluzioneUnità di Antropologia, Università di Pisa 11Calci, PisaItaly

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