Science has taken a surprisingly long time to uncover the truth about pheromones, in particular the role they play in human and primate mating. Now Japanese scientists may have come close to establishing to everybody’s satisfaction that pheromones do exist in at least primates. If so, it would be harder than ever to claim that they would not also play a part in the mating of our own naked ape species.
As a report in this week’s National Geographic magazine points out, scientists only discovered the first pheromone in 1959 (bombykol, the scent of the female silkworm moth). Despite initial beliefs that pheromones would only exist in insects, scientific researchers have gradually worked their way up the evolutionary ladder to discover similar scent molocules that influence sexual behavior in rodents, pigs, and other mammals. More recently, various research has indicated the presence of pheromones in the ring-tailed lemurs of Madagascar, and this week a Japanese study into the cute little primates added further weight to the theory.
Researchers at the University of Tokyo recently added to that scent profile, finding three additional chemicals called aldehydes, which caused the females to linger longer around the male’s scents.
“We are surprised that the identified odors in this study smell relatively good to humans —fruity and floral,” says study co-author Kazushige Touhara, a biochemist at the University of Tokyo.
To be considered sex pheromones, these odors will have to be shown to affect only lemurs and increase their mating chances, Touhara says. If that is the case, they would be the first sex pheromones ever found in primates.