Individual olfactory signatures in common marmosets (Callithrix jacchus)

Am J Primatol. 2006 Jun;68(6):585-604. doi: 10.1002/ajp.20254.


Individual discrimination is likely a prerequisite for most primate social interactions. Olfactory cues are one set of stimuli used by primates to discriminate between individuals. Despite the importance of these olfactory signatures, there is little published research assessing the existence or function of individually unique odors among primates. This review systematically assesses behavioral and biochemical aspects of individual odors in a New World primate, the common marmoset (Callithrix jacchus). There are three objectives to this review: First, behavioral evidence for odors unique to the individual is evaluated in the context of results demonstrating that marmosets are able to discriminate between the scents from a familiar and a novel individual conspecific in behavioral bioassays under a variety of conditions. Second, biochemical evidence for individual scent signatures is debated with reference to studies examining qualitative and quantitative differences between the chemical compositions of scent-mark pools from adult females. A combined gas chromatography (GC) and mass spectrometry (MS) analysis demonstrated that each female had a unique ratio of highly volatile chemicals in the scent mark that could affect individual discrimination. Finally, the possible adaptive significance of individual odors in marmosets is debated. Individual odors may play a key role in regulating both female intrasexual competition and intersexual communication by providing a basis for the assessment of individual quality.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological
  • Animal Communication*
  • Animals
  • Callithrix / metabolism
  • Callithrix / physiology*
  • Female
  • Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry
  • Odorants / analysis*
  • Sexual Behavior, Animal
  • Smell / physiology*