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Abstract

In mammals, olfactory cues play a major role in individual recognition and urine is one source of potentially individual-specific olfactory cues. We studied how soon young of the extremely precocial domestic guinea-pig (Cavia porcellus) establish specific preferences for maternal urine smell by offering 5–30-d-old young a simultaneous choice between a urine sample of the mother and urine from an unfamiliar unrelated lactating female. Young showed increasing preference for the smell of maternal urine from day 5 of life onwards. On day 10 of life, they discriminated between maternal urine and that of other lactating females when these were unfamiliar and related, unfamiliar and unrelated or familiar unrelated, but not when the urine of the other female came from a familiar and related lactating animal. The last result is based on fewer litters and, therefore has to be considered as preliminary. As our results are based on spontaneous preferences for just one source of olfactory cues, discrimination of live animals is likely to be even better than demonstrated here. Learning or phenotype matching of individual specific cues enable these precocial young to form a specific bond with their mother soon after birth.