Ontogenetic Olfactory Experience and Adult Searching Behavior in the Carnivorous Ferret

  • Raimund Apfelbach


Several studies on prey catching behavior of mustelids have shown that optical and acoustical stimuli are important for eliciting hunting reactions in the European polecat (Mustela putorius) and its domesticated form the ferret (Mustela putorius f. furo L.) (Goethe, 1940; Räber, 1944; Eibl-Eibesfeldt, 1956, 1963; Wüstehube, 1960; Gossow, 1970; Apfelbach and Wester, 1977). Yet, in this species both sensory modalities are surpassed in importance by the olfactory system. Behavioral studies indicate that adult ferrets respond reliably with food searching behavior only when the odor of known prey is offered (Apfelbach, 1973). This suggests that odor serves as an acquired sign stimulus for prey identification and selection in ferrets. In subsequent experiments it was demonstrated that the preference for a specific prey odor is not due to the length of prior feeding experience but due to imprinting during a postnatal sensitive phase occuring between the second and fourth month of life (Apfelbach, 1978). During this phase animals react strongly to novel odors (prey odors and pure chemical odors) with distinct searching behavior. Animals that were introduced to a novel food after their fourth month paid decreasing attention to it. At one year of age, the animals showed no response to the odors of unknown prey objects or any other odor, although they continued to respond readily to that of known prey with searching behavior.


Sensitive Phase Odor Preference Prior Feeding European Polecat Dead Chick 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 1992

Authors and Affiliations

  • Raimund Apfelbach
    • 1
  1. 1.Dept. of ZoologyUniversity of TübingenTübingenGermany

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