Volatile scent chemicals in the urine of the red fox, Vulpes vulpes
journal contributionposted on 2023-05-20, 22:55 authored by Stuart McLeanStuart McLean, David NicholsDavid Nichols, Noel DaviesNoel Davies
The red fox is a highly adaptable mammal that has established itself world-wide in many different environments. Contributing to its success is a social structure based on chemical signalling between individuals. Urine scent marking behaviour has long been known in foxes, but there has not been a recent study of the chemical composition of fox urine. We have used solid-phase microextraction and gas chromatography-mass spectrometry to analyze the urinary volatiles in 15 free-ranging wild foxes (2 female) living in farmlands and bush in Victoria, Australia. Foxes here are routinely culled as feral pests, and the urine was collected by bladder puncture soon after death. Compounds were identified from their mass spectra and Kovats retention indices. There were 53 possible endogenous scent compounds, 10 plant-derived compounds and 5 anthropogenic xenobiotics. Among the plant chemicals were several aromatic apocarotenoids previously found in greater abundance in the fox tail gland. They reflect the dietary consumption of carotenoids, essential for optimal health. One third of all the endogenous volatiles were sulfur compounds, a highly odiferous group which included thiols, methylsulfides and polysulfides. Five of the sulfur compounds (3-isopentenyl thiol, 1- and 2-phenylethyl methyl sulfide, octanethiol and benzyl methyl sulfide) have only been found in foxes, and four others (isopentyl methyl sulfide, 3-isopentenyl methyl sulfide, and 1- and 2-phenylethane thiol) only in some canid, mink and skunk species. This indicates that they are not normal mammalian metabolites and have evolved to serve a specific role. This role is for defence in musteloids and most likely for chemical communication in canids. The total production of sulfur compounds varied greatly between foxes (median 1.2, range 0.4–32.3 μg ‘acetophenone equivalents’/mg creatinine) as did the relative abundance of different chemical types. The urinary scent chemistry may represent a highly evolved system of semiochemicals for communication between foxes.
Publication titlePLoS ONE
Department/SchoolSchool of Pharmacy and Pharmacology
PublisherPublic Library of Science
Place of publicationUnited States
Rights statementCopyright 2021 McLean et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.