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Differential Responses to Same and Opposite Sex Odors by Adult House Mice Are Associated with Anogenital Distance


Lee C. Drickamer, Department of Biological Sciences, Northern Arizona University, Flagstaff, AZ 86011-5640, USA. E-mail:


Intrauterine position (IUP) of female and male fetuses in litter-bearing mammals can affect their physiology, morphology and behavior. The relationship between anogenital distance (AGD) and IUP was used as a bioassay for the degree of exposure of female and male fetuses to hormones in utero. Based on laboratory work in several rodent species, the following predictions were made for house mice (Mus musculus domesticus): (1) female mice should prefer odors from males with larger AGDs because such males are more aggressive, could protect more resources, and are better parents than males with smaller AGDs; (2) male mice should prefer odors from females with smaller AGDs because these females produce more offspring and are better parents than females with larger AGDs. We also tested the prediction that within sexes, mice should avoid odors from mice with larger AGDs because such mice are more aggressive. Responses to odors in traps were used to test these predictions for house mice living in outdoor enclosures using odor-baited traps. Both predictions were confirmed. Furthermore, mice of both sexes tended to avoid odor cues from individuals of the same sex that had larger AGDs, probably to decrease chances of an aggressive encounter that could result in injury.