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We propose that one mechanism whereby male rats, Rattus norvegicus, might gauge the reproductive condition of a female is by calibrating a stable odor with an odor that fluctuates through her reproductive cycle. We provide behavioral and histological evidence in support of such a self-calibration model. Male rats sniffed frequently at various body zones of females, and the proportion of sniffs deployed to each zone varied with the females' reproductive condition and relatedness. The females' haunches received more sniffs than any other part of their bodies, irrespective of their relatedness or reproductive condition. Furthermore, males tended to sniff the haunch after sniffing the forequarters, as part of a sequence of sniffing along a female from forequarters to hindquarters. Histology of the skin sebaceous glands indicated that the secretory activity of glands in the haunch, but not those in the forequarters, changed during estrus. Therefore, male rats had the opportunity to judge a female's reproductive status by calibrating the odor of her haunch against that of her forequarters. Self-calibration could represent a means of accommodating differences in odor within individuals. © 1994 Plenum Publishing Corporation.

Original publication




Journal article


Journal of Chemical Ecology

Publication Date





1843 - 1857