The Chemical Basis of Species, Sex, and Individual Recognition Using Feces in the Domestic Cat
Scents emitted from excretions provide important information about the owner. Volatile compounds with higher levels in a species and/or sex, or that vary among individuals could be odor cues for species and/or sex, or individual recognition. However, such compounds have been identified in only a few vertebrate species. In domestic cats (Felis silvestris catus), it is known that unburied cat feces are territorial markers asserting the border of their home range, but little was known which fecal compounds are scent cues for species, sex, and individual recognition in cats. In the present study, we demonstrated the chemical basis for species, sex, and individual recognition using feces of cats. For males, major contents were fatty acids and 3-mercapto-3-methyl-1-butanol (MMB), a derivative of the unusual amino acid, felinine. MMB emission levels from feces had sex-based differences (male > female) and dynamic temporal changes during aging. Cats distinguished fecal odors with and without MMB, and different fatty acid compositions among individuals. No cat-specific compound, such as MMB, was detectable from their anal odor emitting fatty acids. We concluded that fecal MMB is a male sex recognition pheromone in cats and also provides a temporal trace of the owner. After sensing MMB, they may distinguish individual differences of conspecific feces with variable subsets of fatty acids. In contrast to scent marks, since cats can obtain species information from visual cues before sniffing conspecific anal odors, they may use their efforts to distinguish individual differences of anal odors during sniffing.
KeywordsScent communication Olfaction Volatile compounds Territoriality Felids Pheromone
We thank Dr. T. Wyatt for invaluable discussion. This research was funded by JSPS KAKENHI Grant Numbers 17H03937 and 17 K19215.
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