Lemurs can sniff out weakness: New study

While some humans watch for signs of weakness in others, especially in competitive environments, lemurs can actually smell it out, according to the findings of a new study.


Lemurs can smell weakness in each other

Lemurs from Madagascar can tell that a fellow lemur is weaker just by the natural scents they leave behind, according to a study on ring-tailed lemurs. The study reveals that getting hurt dampens a lemur’s natural aroma, and that males act more aggressively toward scents that smell ”off.”

Abstract of study

We examined the effects of naturally occurring injury on the quality and salience of olfactory signals in ring-tailed lemurs (Lemur catta). Over a decade, we collected genital secretions from 23 (13 male, 10 female) adults across 34 unique injuries, owing primarily to intra-group fights. Using gas chromatography-mass spectrometry, we tested for differences in the chemical composition of secretions across pre-injury, injury and recovery, in animals that did and did not receive antibiotics. Lemur genital secretions were significantly dampened and altered during injury, with patterns of change varying by sex, season and antibiotics. Using behavioural bioassays (excluding odorants from antibiotic-treated animals), we showed that male ‘recipients’ discriminated injury status based on scent alone, directing more competitive counter marking towards odorants from injured vs. uninjured male ‘signallers.’

Read the user-friendly overview of the study here.

Read the scientific journal publication of the study here:

Journal Reference:  Rachel L. Harris, Marylène Boulet, Kathleen E. Grogan, Christine M. Drea. Costs of injury for scent signalling in a strepsirrhine primate. Scientific Reports, 2018; 8 (1) DOI: 10.1038/s41598-018-27322-3