Wondered what a pheromone is?

Discover what a pheromone is and how it acts to influence behavior.

We Know: All About Pheromones

What is a pheromone?

Pheromones are chemical signals released by different glands in the body that communicate and influence social behaviors to members within a species. Insects and vertebrates release pheromones. Pheromones communicate warnings of danger, locations of food sources, mating signals, markings of territory, and synchronizing of menstrual cycle.

In humans, the male pheromone is called androstenone and the female pheromone is called copulin.

Are there synthetic pheromones that humans can use to attract members of the opposite sex?

Synthetic pheromones are used as aphrodisiacs in perfumes and colognes. The effectiveness of these products have not been scientifically proven.

What are the components of pheromones?

Pheromones consist of a carbon backbone of between five to twenty carbon molecules and combinations of acetates and aldehydes molecules. The molecular weights fall in the range of 80 to 300. Structurally, pheromones look like fatty acids. Each species emits a different blend of these chemical compounds to elicit the desired behaviors.

How are pheromones detected?

Insects detect pheromones with antennae. Pheromones are detected in vertebrates by the vomeronasal organ (VNO), a piece of tissue in the nasal cavity that acts as a receptor.

What are the types of pheromones and their mechanisms of action?

The two types of pheromones are releaser pheromones and primer pheromones.

  • Releaser pheromones - cause immediate responses and are short-acting.
    • Alarm pheromones warn other members of impending danger. Ants secrete an alarm pheromone in increasing concentrations to lead ants away from the source of danger.
    • Trail pheromones point to sources of food (ants).
    • Territory marking, usually as urine or droppings by vertebrates (i.e. cats or dogs).
    • A queen honey bee releases the Queen Mandibular Pheromone to recruit worker bees to perform a function such as building a nest.
  • Primer pheromones - cause delayed responses (as in sexual attraction). These pheromones act over longer distances and time.
    • Female silkworms release bombykol into the environment to attract mates.
    • Queen honey bees release a pheromone that suppresses the mating behavior of other females in the colony so that only the queen lays her eggs.
    • Female fish release pheromone scent markers to signal males to increase sperm counts for spawning.
    • Human females synchronize ovulation cycles when perspiration is detected by other females in close proximity.

What are practical uses of pheromones?

Synthetic pheromones are created from modified forms of natural pheromones and are used in pest control for:

  • Confusion - Tricks the female into not laying eggs on crops. The Japanese beetle and gypsy moth populations have been controlled in this way.
  • False trails - Misleads the insect into following a false trail.
  • Trail masking - Masks the female insect attractant so that the male can't find the female trail.

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