A Moment of Science

Birth Control Changes How Lemurs Choose Their Sweethearts

Female lemurs on contraceptives smell different to potential mates than ones that are not.

lemur_love

Photo: Peter Campbell (flickr)

Lemurs, and many other mammals, rely on their sniffers to help them find a suitable mate.

Scents can even give information about genetic fitness, identity, and relatedness to potential mates. For example, a female can ‘sniff out’ a male immune system that is different from her own. That perhaps makes him more attractive, because it would be beneficial to their offspring who would be protected by more diseases.

Biologists are studying the science of scent among a group of lemurs. They wanted to know if hormone alteration, such as birth control, would affect a female’s ability to pick up these scents.

In fact, it did! Altered hormone levels changed their own chemical signals. This made these females smell funny (from a lemurs point of view), making them less attractive to the males and making it harder for them to sniff out a mate.

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Molly Plunkett

is a journalism student at Indiana University and an online producer for A Moment of Science. She is originally from Wheaton, IL.

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