Sex, age, and family differences in the chemical composition of owl monkey (Aotus nancymaae) subcaudal scent secretions



Numerous behavioral studies have shown that animals use olfactory cues as inbreeding avoidance or kin avoidance mechanisms, implying that scent is unique to families. However, few studies have analyzed the chemical profile of a scent and ascertained the messages that are conveyed in scent secretions. Owl monkeys (Aotus nancymaae) are socially monogamous primates that utilize scent when interacting with foreign conspecifics. This suggests there is a difference in the chemical composition of scent marks. We chemically analyzed sub-caudal gland samples from three families of captive owl monkeys (Aotus nancymaae). Samples were analyzed by capillary GC-MS and relative retention time and fragment pattern was compared with known standards. Gland samples were high in large plant-based shikikate metabolites and fatty ketones; alcohols, acids, and acetates were virtually absent. Gender, age, and family could be reliably classified using discriminant analysis (92.9, 100, and 100%, respectively). Female scent profiles were greater in concentration of aromatic plant metabolites, possibly the result of a different diet or physiological differences in female metabolism as compared to male. Offspring of adult age still living in their natal group showed a less complex chemical profile than their parents. Finally, each family had its own unique and complex chemical profile. The presence of family scent may play a role in mediating social interactions. Am. J. Primatol. 70:12–18, 2007. © 2007 Wiley-Liss, Inc.