Preparations for battle begin when male combatants load their "weapons" vigorously rubbing their tails against their shoulders and between their wrists, infusing the fur with scent from glands there.
So armed or tailed they launch their attacks, feathery tails arched over their backs, ears flattened and squeaking warnings. They relentlessly flick their tails at one another until one of the adversaries comes to his scentses, gets the odiferous message and retreats.
But until the research of Duke biologist Christine Drea and student Elizabeth Scordato, scientists had no idea what chemical messages were being wafted back and forth in such fights. More broadly, they have not understood the complex "language" of multiple scents that lemurs use to communicate a variety of messages from aggression to mating receptiveness.
In fact, until Drea and Scordato began their studies, scientists didn't even appreciate that ringtails, and perhaps other lemurs, may well have the richest scent language of any primates. They may communicate not just individual chemical words, but in essence, "scentences" combinations of scents that extend the animals' chemical communications repertoire.
The scientists' studies in which they are assiduously sampling and analyzing lemur scents and testing behavioral responses to those scents were inspired by Drea's continuing research on olfacto
Contact: Dennis Meredith