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.
- Received August 4, 2011.
- Accepted September 16, 2011.
- This journal is © 2011 The Royal Society