An airborne sex pheromone in snakes

R. Shine*, R. T. Mason

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Citations (Scopus)


Most reptile sex pheromones so far described are lipid molecules too large to diffuse through the air; instead, they are detected via direct contact (tongue-flicking) with another animal's body or substrate-deposited trails, using the vomeronasal system. The only non-lipid pheromone reported in snakes involves courtship termination in red-sided gartersnakes (Thamnophis sirtalis parietalis): males that encounter copulatory fluids cease courtship, presumably reflecting the futility of courting an already-mating female. Our field experiments at a communal den in Manitoba show that this pheromone can work via olfaction: courtship is terminated by exposure to airborne scents from mating conspecifics, and does not require direct contact (tongue-flicking). Hence, the sexual behaviour of reptiles can be affected by airborne as well as substrate-bound pheromones.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)183-185
Number of pages3
JournalBiology Letters
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 23 Apr 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • chemical communication
  • reproductive tactics
  • reptile sociality
  • sexual selection


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