Detection of female mating status using chemical signals and cues


  • Melissa L. Thomas

    Corresponding author
    1. Centre for Evolutionary Biology, School of Animal Biology (M092), The University of Western Australia, Crawley, W.A. 6009, Australia
      Tel: +61 8 6488 2239; Fax: +61 8 6488 1029; E-mail:
    Search for more papers by this author

Tel: +61 8 6488 2239; Fax: +61 8 6488 1029; E-mail:


Males of many species choose their mate according to the female's reproductive status, and there is now increasing evidence that male fitness can depend on this discrimination. However, females will also aim to regulate their mating activity so as to maximize their own fitness. As such, both sexes may attempt to dictate the frequency and timing of female mating, reflecting the potentially different costs of female signaling to both sexes. Here, I review evidence that chemical cues and signals are used widely by males to discriminate between mated and unmated females, and explore the mechanisms by which female odour changes post-mating. There is substantial empirical evidence that mated and unmated females differ in their chemical profile, and that this variation provides males with information on a female's mating status. Although there appears to be large variation among species regarding the mechanisms by which female odour is altered post-mating, the transfer of male substances to females during or subsequent to copulation appear to play a major role. This transfer of substances by males may be part of their strategy to suppress reproduction by competing males, particularly in species where females mate more than once.