Showing love and affection is important in a relationship, whether it is for humans or animals. Unlike humans, lemurs have their own unique way of displaying love and affection. In one such study, scientists found that the resemblance in the scent displays the intensity of a lemur couple’s relationship. Professor at Duke University, Christine Drea, who conducted the study said:
It’s like singing a duet, but with smells instead of sounds.
Researchers at the Duke Lemur Center in Durham, NC, examined the scent secretion produced by lemurs known as Coquerel’s sifakas. These lemurs have white fur with brown patches on their limbs and chest. Their secretory glands are located on the throats and genital portion. And the lemur smear the secretions produced from these glands on the branches and tree while moving across the forest.
Researchers monitored the lemur’s scent marking and sniffing etiquette throughout the breeding season. They discovered that the lemur couple imitate each other’s scent marking action. They believe that in order to associate territory boundaries or to show their relationship status to other lemurs, kids bearing lemur couples specifically releases resembling scents. Before lemur gives birth to their offspring, they are involved in scent marking and inspecting smells of other lemurs.
Secretion samples were collected using cotton swabs from the genital area of eight males and seven females during different stages of the reproductive period. Using gas chromatography and mass spectrometry tests, more than 250 odor chemicals in the sifaka lemur unique scent were identified.
The researchers observed the action of six pairs of prospective mates, surveying how frequent the animals dab their scents also known as scent marking and how often the other members of the clan smelled or licked or marked over the scents left behind by others.
A research associate in the Department of Evolutionary Anthropology Lydia Greene, who conducted the study as a Duke undergraduate says that the mates without kids were engaged more on scent-marking and evaluating each other’s scents possibly in a ‘getting-to-know-you’ period:
If two animals have never reproduced, the male doesn’t necessarily know what the female smells like when she’s in heat, because they’ve never gone through this before. They might need to scent mark a lot more to figure out when it’s time to mate.
On the other hand, couples with offspring less engaged in scent marking and evaluating each other’s smell. But they have their smell more similar than the couples without offspring. This similarity as per researchers results due to the interchange of bacteria responsible for generating the smells, during various sessions of mating, grooming or any other contact.
The researchers were also surprised to note that time period for which the couples are together does not play a role in their mating outcome or even similarity of their odors. Greene observed that sifaka couples that were together were longer time period had not met success in reproducing, while some other already had kids even though they know each other for a little while.
Researchers are yet to understand the messages that are conveyed through the chemical discharges. In other lemur varieties, the scent contain numerous compounds that aids the lemur to differentiate between the males from females, whether the female is ready for mating and even to mark the borders. It is believed that sifaka couples similar scents could be helping them to guard their boundaries, or to announcing their relationship status to other clan mates.
For humans wearing a wedding ring or updating their status as committed or married on social networking sites is a simpler way of communicating the status, but the lemurs are more advanced and are using complex chemical signalling for the purpose.