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What Are Pheromones? - Definition, Function & Examples

What Are Pheromones? - Definition, Function & Examples
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  • 0:00 Definition Of Pheromones
  • 0:25 Function And Types Of…
  • 1:55 Human Pheromones
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Instructor: Julie Zundel

Julie has taught high school Zoology, Biology, Physical Science and Chem Tech. She has a Bachelor of Science in Biology and a Master of Education.

Ever wonder why you are instantly attracted to a person? It could be good looks, but it could be pheromones. This lesson explores different types of pheromones and the conflicting debate about human pheromones.

Definition of Pheromones

Pheromones are types of chemicals that are released by organisms as a means of communication with organisms of the same species. Some animals release it through their urine, their skin or even in their feces, and it is detected using smell. Pheromones can be released for a variety of reasons including readiness to mate, an alert to danger, showing a certain territory or even when an animal is ovulating!

Function and Types of Pheromones

The word pheromone comes from the Greek word pherein which means to carry or to bear. This makes sense because pheromones carry or bear information. There are two types of pheromones: releaser and primer.

Releaser pheromones get an immediate response. Have you ever seen an ant wandering around and wondered, 'How in the world is this little thing going to find her way home?' Ants release releaser pheromones, which are detected as a smell to other ants, when they have found food. This lets the other ants know that they can return to the nest in order to feast. Once the food runs out, the ants release a separate pheromone that lets the ants know that the food is gone.

Another ant example of a releaser pheromone, is an alarm pheromone. In this case, the ants that are in danger release a pheromone that basically says 'come over and help me!' This results in ants coming to their aide.

Primer pheromones, on the other hand, do not cause an immediate response. Let's look at an example:

When female rats are housed together without a male, their reproductive cycle stops or is slowed. This is signaled through pheromones released in the female rats' urine. Since there is no male around, there is no point in expending the excess energy.

Another example in primer pheromones in rats is used for sexual availability. When a female is ready to mate, she releases a pheromone that excites male rats and even causes them to mount her.

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