Image of the Day: Stink Flirting
Image of the Day: Stink Flirting

Image of the Day: Stink Flirting

Male lemurs secrete aldehydes from their wrist glands that may make them more attractive to females during the breeding season.

Amy Schleunes
Amy Schleunes

A former intern at The Scientist, Amy studied neurobiology at Cornell University and later earned her MFA in creative writing from the University of Iowa. She is a Los...

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Apr 17, 2020

ABOVE: A male ring-tailed lemur shows off his wrist glands, which secrete clear fluids that facilitate sexual communication.

In a spirited form of sexual communication, male lemurs are known to rub their wrist glands onto their long tails, which they then wave in the presence of females, releasing scents from the gland secretions into the air. The behavior is called “stink flirting,” according to a press release for a study published on April 16 in Current Biology, and is only exhibited in ring-tailed lemurs (Lemur catta). To date, the chemical composition of these clear fluids had never been investigated in detail, because “most studies of animal communication are done by ecologists,” says coauthor and olfactory expert Kazushige Touhara of Hokkaido University in Japan in the statement.

Touhara and colleagues collected secretions from male lemur wrist glands and identified aldehydes with “fruity and floral scents,” they write in the paper, three of which are increased during the breeding season in step with the males’ testosterone levels. The researchers say that these compounds may be the first reported sex pheromones in primates, though further research is needed. “Nonetheless,” they offer in their conclusion, “the identification of key volatiles used in sexual communications among lemurs introduces a way to better understand chemical communications among primates.”

An antebrachial gland on a male lemur’s wrist releases putative lemur pheromones in order to attract females.
Satomi Ito, Kyoto University

M. Shirasu et al., “Key male glandular odorants attracting female ring-tailed lemurs,” Current Biology, doi:10.1016/j.cub.2020.03.037, 2020.