This website offers an introduction to the science of pheromones,
and some information about my work
on them, in particular my textbook
on pheromones and animal behaviour.
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 2003, 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
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
(2003) and most recently reviewed by Wysocki
and Preti (2009).
[For more discussion of these ideas see Wyatt (2010)]
Second edition of Pheromones and animal behaviour due
Cambridge Science Festival, March 2011 'Success of the
'Success of the smelliest' YouTube podcast , Sept 2010
Pheromones are not (quite) what you think
(poster at ISCE, Aug 2010)
14 June 2010 Tristram was a speaker in Scientists
at Speakers' Corner (blogged at New