Journal of Chemical Ecology

, Volume 45, Issue 1, pp 18–27 | Cite as

Identification and Field Testing of Volatile Components in the Sex Attractant Pheromone Blend of Female House Mice

  • Elana Varner
  • Regine Gries
  • Stephen Takács
  • Stephanie Fan
  • Gerhard GriesEmail author


Recently, it was reported (i) that the sex pheromone blend of male house mice, Mus musculus, comprises not only volatile components (3,4-dehydro-exo-brevicomin; 2-sec-butyl-4,5-dihydrothiazole) but also a component of low volatility (the sex steroid testosterone), and (ii) that the sex steroids progesterone and estradiol are sex pheromone components of female house mice. Here we tested the hypothesis that the sex attractant pheromone blend of female mice, analogous to that of male mice, also comprises volatile pheromone components. Analyzing by GC-MS the head space volatiles of bedding soiled with urine and feces of laboratory-kept females and males revealed three candidate pheromone components (CPCs) that were adult female-specific: butyric acid, 2-methyl butyric acid and 4-heptanone. In a two-choice laboratory experiment, adult males spent significantly more time in the treatment chamber baited with both the synthetic steroids (progesterone, estradiol) and the synthetic CPCs than in the paired control chamber baited only with the synthetic steroids. In field experiments, trap boxes baited with both the CPCs and the steroids captured 6.7-times more adult males and 4.7-times more juvenile males than trap boxes baited with the steroids alone. Conversely, trap boxes baited with both the CPCs and the steroids captured 4.3-times more adult males and 2.7-fold fewer adult females than trap boxes baited with the CPCs alone. In combination, these data support the conclusion that butyric acid, 2-methyl butyric acid and 4-heptanone are part of the sex attractant pheromone of female house mice. With progesterone and estradiol being pheromone components of both female brown rats, Rattus norvegicus, and female house mice, these three volatile components could impart specificity to the sexual communication system of house mice, brown rats and possibly other rodent species.


Female house mice Mus musculus Sex pheromone Sex attractant Volatiles 



We thank Grigori Khaskin, Huimin Zhai and Santosh K. Alamsetti for syntheses of certain chemicals; Hanna Jackson, Kaya Vukovic, Ally Porges, Himani Boury, Michelle Huang, Sahib Janjua, Amrit Dhindsa, Josh Petsche, Sharlene Sharma, Gaganpreet Singh Singh, and Amy Zheng for research assistance; Ian Bercovitz for statistical advice; Sharon Oliver for word processing and comments; and two anonymous referees for constructive reviews. The research was supported by a Graduate Fellowship from Simon Fraser University, a Dr. H.R. McCarthy Graduate Bursary and a Thelma Finlayson Graduate Entrance Scholarship to EV, and by a Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada – Industrial Research Chair to GG with Scotts Canada Ltd. as the industrial sponsor. The research was approved and supported by the Animal Care Committee of Simon Fraser University (protocol #1159B-15).


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Biological SciencesSimon Fraser UniversityBurnabyCanada

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