Baby on board: olfactory cues indicate pregnancy and fetal sex in a non-human primate

Journal Article

Jeremy Chase Crawford1,2,3,4 and Christine M. Drea4,5⇑1National Evolutionary Synthesis Center, Durham, NC, USA2Department of Integrative Biology, University of California, Berkeley, CA, USA3Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, University of California, Berkeley, CA, USA4Department of Evolutionary Anthropology, Duke University, Durham, NC, USA5Department of Biology, Duke University, Durham, NC, USAe-mail: cdrea{at}duke.eduAbstract Olfactory cues play an integral, albeit underappreciated, role in mediating vertebrate social and reproductive behaviour. These cues fluctuate with the signaller's hormonal condition, coincident with and informative about relevant aspects of its reproductive state, such as pubertal onset, change in season and, in females, timing of ovulation. Although pregnancy dramatically alters a female's endocrine profiles, which can be further influenced by fetal sex, the relationship between gestation and olfactory cues is poorly understood. We therefore examined the effects of pregnancy and fetal sex on volatile genital secretions in the ring-tailed lemur (Lemur catta), a strepsirrhine primate possessing complex olfactory mechanisms of reproductive signalling. While pregnant, dams altered and dampened their expression of volatile chemicals, with compound richness being particularly reduced in dams bearing sons. These changes were comparable in magnitude with other, published chemical differences among lemurs that are salient to conspecifics. Such olfactory ‘signatures’ of pregnancy may help guide social interactions, potentially promoting mother–infant recognition, reducing intragroup conflict or counteracting behavioural mechanisms of paternity confusion; cues that also advertise fetal sex may additionally facilitate differential sex allocation. olfactory communicationreproductive signalgestationsex allocationhormonechemosignalReceived October 27, 2014.Accepted January 20, 2015.© 2015 The Author(s) Published by the Royal Society. All rights reserved.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Crawford, JC; Drea, CM

Published Date

  • February 25, 2015

Published In

  • Biology Letters

Volume / Issue

  • 11 / 2

PubMed ID

  • 25716086

Pubmed Central ID

  • PMC4360101

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1098/rsbl.2014.0831