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




    Second edition of Pheromones January 2014 (Europe), March 2014 (rest of world).

    cover 2nd ednThis 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 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

    2nd edition of Pheromones and animal behavior Jan 2014

    TEDxLeuven Is Smelly Sexy? August 2013

    Cambridge Science Festival, March 2011 'Success of the smelliest'

    'Success of the smelliest' YouTube podcast , Sept 2010 more

    14 June 2010 Tristram was a speaker in Scientists at Speakers' Corner (blogged at New Scientist).



    Copyright 2010 TW last updated 16 August 2010. Template thanks to C Holland, Oxford Silk Group