Friday, February 1, 2008

Smelly Facts: Perfumed Lovin’

A couple of weeks ago, in a different Smelly Facts post, we saw how bees gather and use perfume in order to communicate with each other. Today we turn our attention to a very different animal and they way it uses fragrant chemicals. Alloanointing is the transfer of chemicals among members of the same species – an activity that has long been documented in mammals. According to Hector Douglas, an assistant professor of biology at the University of Alaska, his research is the first to document this behavior in birds. According to Douglas “The crested auklet (Aethia cristatella), a colonial seabird of Alaskan and Siberian waters, alloanoints during courtship with fragrant aldehydes that are released from specialized wick-like feathers located in the interscapular region. Crested auklets solicit anointment at the colony, and prospective mates rub bill, breast, head, and neck over wick feathers of their partners. This distributes aldehydes over the head, neck, and face where the birds cannot self-preen.” You are probably curious what the aldehydic perfume of choice for this magnificently billed bird smells like. As it turns out, it smells intensely of citrus, and more specifically, of orange! Apparently, unlike us humans, crested auklets do not shy away from strong sillage either; according to Douglas, “a stronger chemical signal (is) more attractive”. But this perfumed courting behavior is not just good for flirting, apparently. It also serves a practical purpose: the aldehydic scent is a great insect repellent, which protects these birds against tick infestations!

Reference: “Prenuptial perfume: Alloanointing in the social rituals of the crested auklet (Aethia cristatella) and the transfer of arthropod deterrents”, Die Naturwissenschaften [0028-1042] Douglas yr:2008 vol:95 iss:1 pg:45 -53



PinstripedZebra said...

I look forward to the smelly facts all the time. This is another gem! I would never have encountered this information if it wasn't for you.


Divina said...

Thank you! I know you love the Smelly Facts Feature, so you were in my mind today when I was writing it!

Linda said...

Dera Divina,
How fascinating! The citrus connection is very logical: perhaps that's why candles and some sprays to drive away mosquitos have a citrus fragrance? Thank you for another really interesting fact,

Divina said...

Those citronella candles came to my mind immediately too, Linda!