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How Rats Communicate Using Pheromones

Like most other animals, rats do not communicate with audible words. But they do exchange information just like humans do, only through a different medium – Pheromones.

What are pheromones?
A Pheromone is a chemical signal sent by one organism that brings about or elicits a response in other organisms of the same species. Pheromones are actually specie-specific chemical signals because only organisms of the same species as the sender can perceive and respond to them. Again, Pheromones have been described as a chemical that is capable of changing the behavior of an organism once it receives a signal from another animal of the same species.

What types of pheromones exist?
Pheromones are divided into 4 types based on what they do. They are modulator, primer, releaser and signaler pheromones.

Modulator pheromones are responsible for changing the bodily functions of an animal.

Primer pheromones are responsible for eliciting changes in the reproductive system such as puberty, estrous cycle in females and so on. They take a longer time to be effective and can also bring about changes in hormone levels.

Releaser pheromones elicit sexual attraction and response in the opposite sex.

Signaler pheromones help babies to recognize and bond with their mothers.

How do rats then communicate with pheromones?
Rats, like most other mammals, possess a main olfactory epithelium and a specialized organ in their nose called vomeronasal organ (VNO). These organs make for a highly specialized olfactory system that is capable of being sensitive to pheromones.

When the chemical signals are received, the signals travel from the main olfactory epithelium to the main olfactory bulb, and on to the olfactory cortex and other centers in the brain before going to the hypothalamus. Similarly, when the VNO receives chemical signals (pheromones), they travel to the olfactory bulb, then to the amygdala and finally to the hypothalamus. From the hypothalamus, signals are sent to various part of the body to elicit the required response.

Which kind of communication can pheromones be used for?
As against the common belief that pheromones are only used for sexual communications, they are actually used for a lot of other communications. These include the animals alerting themselves when a predator is in sight, demarcating territories, establishing mother-baby recognition and bonds, alert response in case of emergency, calling others’ attention for gathering food and other social communication.

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