The Scent of an Elephant
Go Dumbo, it's your birthday...go Dumbo, it's your birthday...
It seems female Asian elephants strongly prefer the smell of a more experienced, older male. According to brand new research by scientists of the Oregon Health and Scinces University, when males enter their period of heightened aggressiveness and sexual activity (called musth), they release a cocktail of pheromones to attract the ladies.
"This study reveals the precision and specificity of inter-animal signaling possible," co-author Dr. L.E.L. "Bets" Rasmussen (pictured right), research professor of environmental and biomolecular systems, OHSU OGI School of Science & Engineering, said of the study published in the Dec. 22 edition of the journal Nature. "This is the first example, in mammals, of the use of this very precise signaling and ratio of enantiomers in signaling."
An enantiomer is one of a pair of chemical compounds whose molecular structures are mirror images of each other. Frontalin, a pheromone discharged during musth by male Asian elephants from a temporal gland located between the eye and ear, comes in two forms, each representing one half of the enantiomer pair and identified as either "plus" or "minus."
Adolescent males release more of the "plus" pheromone, adding more "minus" frontalin to the mixture as they age. When Asian males reach 20 years old, they make a perfectly balanced 1:1 ratio of the plus/minus pheromone...and it drives the females wild!
Researches examined ovulating females, and females that were either pregnant or in a non-reproductive "luteal" phase. They also tested young and old males. It found that low concentrations of frontalin, represented when the enantiomer ratio is more "plus" than "minus," was of mild interest to both young and old males, but when the ratio became balanced - equal amounts of plus and minus frontalin - males of all ages, as well as luteal-phase and pregnant females, were repulsed. Only ovulating females were attracted. Yeah baby! The study's results indicate that the ratio of frontalin enantiomers allows other elephants to distinguish both the maturity of male elephants in musth and the phase of musth. To humans, the balanced pheromone isn't so great. Imagine the smell of damp old socks with a hint of ripe ass.
How is this research beneficial? Research on sexual communication among elephants not only sheds light on animal behavior, but also may prove useful for "facilitating mating in livestock, horses, dogs [and other animals] by using odors for the arousal of males at appropriate times in the female cycle," Prestwich of OHSU says. The research contributes to "understanding the basic elements of odor perception in all animals, including humans," he adds.
Rasmussen says that by studying elephants, researchers can better understand how mammals in general utilize sex-attractant pheromones that affect behavior. In Asia, elephants are nortorious for raiding rice crops. Perhaps they will someday be able to devise a method of repelling elephants and prevent crop-raiding.
Also, elephants have matriarchal, multigenerational, stable societies in which 'cultural' information is passed from great-grandmothers to youngsters. Anthropologists and human behaviorists are interested in how elephants and other animals manage their societies so effectively and smoothly.
In the Asian elephant society, it seems the more mature man gets the girl.
Can this information be applied to humans? The study of human pheromones is really in it's infancy, but already we are just beginning to learn how pheromones dictate whom we are attracted to. As far as older male humans getting the girl, I'm not so sure. I think human society is different.
I just don't think the scent of an old man makes women swoon. In fact, I'm pretty sure that the smell of Old Spice mixed with Ben Gay and chili is NOT going to attract the ladies.