Pheromones, ABRG,Department of Zoology, University of Oxford Asian elephants and many moths share a pheromone molecule
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mouse from Porter & Blaustein 1989 Science Progress
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Wyatt (2003) Pheromones  cover




This website offers an introduction to the science of pheromones, and some information about my work on them, in particular my the second edition of my textbook on pheromones and animal behaviour, published by Cambridge University Press in March 2014.

The book won the 2014 Best Postgrad textbook award from the Society of Biology. The judges wrote:

"Revised and extended since the first edition, this splendid, comprehensive resource covers both classic ideas in the field of chemical communication as well as recent advances, such as the surprising discovery that the chemoreceptors of insects and vertebrates evolved independently. ... more"

Pheromones featured on the cover of American Scientist for the February-March 2015 issue. Inside, I give a review of pheromones across the animal kingdom.

American Scientist cover

Pheromones are molecules used for chemical communication. They are evolved signals which elicit a specific reaction, for example, a stereotyped behaviour and/or a developmental process in a member of the same species. The same pheromone (or parts of it) can have a variety of effects, depending on the context or the receiver.

Pheromones have been found in species from almost every part of the animal kingdom, on land, in air and water Wyatt 2014, 2009). Invertebrates and vertebrates are similar to each other in the ways they use chemical communication; the parallels in uses and sensory processes are numerous, even if we are not always sure if this is by convergence or shared ancestor.

However, there is still a debate about what pheromones are and are not in chemical communication, particularly in mammals. I think the problem continues to be the distinction between a pheromone, a molecule(s) produced by all male mice, for example, and what I propose we call a signature mixture, an individual male’s distinctive mix of molecules, which a female mouse learns and uses to recognize him as a particular individual. The colony odors of social insects are also signature mixtures, learned by nestmates. Pheromones occur in a background of molecules which make up an animal’s chemical profile consisting of all the molecules extractable from an individual.

Signature mixtures are the subsets of variable molecules from the chemical profile that are learnt by other members of their species and used to recognize an organism as an individual or as a member of a particular social group such as a mongoose family group or ant colony (Wyatt 2010). ‘Signature’ is used as it implies individuality. A key difference between pheromones and signature mixtures is that in all taxa so far investigated it seems that signature mixtures need to be learnt (Wyatt 2014).

Among the surprises in recent years was the discovery that the Asian elephant Elephas maximus, shares its female sex pheromone, (Z)-7-dodecen-1-yl acetate, with some 140 species of moth. Whether humans have pheromones is discussed in Chapter 13 of Wyatt (2014).

[For more discussion of these ideas see Wyatt (2014)]

Pheromone news

Gresham College Lecture on human pheromones (video)

2nd edition of Pheromones and animal behavior wins Best Postgrad Textbook award from Society of Biology 2014 (Oct 2014)

Human pheromone TEDx talk hits 1 million views


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