Chemical Signals and Primate Behavior

  • Richard P. Michael
  • R. W. Bonsall


People hold strong views about sex and, so it seems, almost equally strong opinions about smell. Put the two together, and there need be no surprise that this area of scientific inquiry is controversial. However, we prefer to avoid the somewhat sterile semantic controversy surrounding the use of the term “pheromone” as it is applied to the reproductive behavior of higher mammals. Whether or not it is useful to borrow a term from insect physiology and apply it to the complexities of primate behavior can be debated far into the night. What concerns us now are the observations that (1) odoriferous substances are produced within the vaginae of rhesus monkeys, (2) their production depends upon a bacterial system that is influenced by the balance of ovarian steroids in the body, (3) these substances escape externally and volatilize, (4) male rhesus monkeys normally make frequent olfactory investigations of the females’ perinea, and (5) when the airborne signal is detected olfactorially, there is a change in the male’s level of sexual activity. If the foregoing statements can be substantiated, we would then have strong evidence for the existence of a chemical channel of communication between the female and the male in this primate species.


Menstrual Cycle Rhesus Monkey Volatile Fatty Acid Vaginal Secretion Olfactory Signal 


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Copyright information

© Plenum Press, New York 1977

Authors and Affiliations

  • Richard P. Michael
    • 1
    • 2
  • R. W. Bonsall
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of PsychiatryEmory UniversityAtlantaUSA
  2. 2.Georgia Mental Health InstituteAtlantaUSA

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