The smell of sex: water-borne and air-borne sex pheromones in the intertidal gastropod Littorina littorea

Laurent Seuront, Nicols Spilmont

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    6 Citations (Scopus)


    We investigated whether individuals of the intertidal snail Littorina littorea may be attracted by water-borne and air-borne pheromones from conspecifics. The potential relative role of water-borne and air-borne pheromone in the behavioural and reproductive biology of L. littorea was assessed through chemotactic assays. These involved a series of choice experiments with snails, snail smell and snail mucus as stimuli in a T-maze under conditions of immersion and emersion, and during the nonmating and mating seasons. During the nonmating season, L. littorea did not choose the snail-conditioned side of the T-maze significantly more frequently than the control side under conditions of both immersion and emersion. During the mating season, under condition of immersion both males and females chose the side of the T-maze conditioned with individual of the opposite sex significantly more frequently than the control side, and did not show any preference for the side conditioned with individuals of the same sex. Under conditions of emersion, only males were significantly more attracted by cues from the opposite sex than by the control. These results indicate that L. littorea are not attracted by conspecifics during the nonmating season; the cues of conspecifics are then unlikely to play a role in the orientation or the aggregation behaviour of this species. The results also suggest that males and females are attracted by the odour of conspecifics of the opposite sex, which contains both water-borne and air-borne pheromones in females and only water-borne pheromones in males. Also the similar behaviours observed with snails, water-borne and air-borne snail smell, and snail mucus, as stimuli indicate that male and female sex pheromones are both present in mucus. Temperature manipulations conducted during both seasons did not affect any of the observed behavioural changes, hence suggesting that the chemoreceptive abilities of L. littorea may be driven by exogenous and/or endogenous factors that are decoupled from direct control by temperature. This is in sharp contrast to the locomotor activity of L. littorea, which consistently increased with temperature. We also report the possibility of mate-tracking in females, a behaviour that has yet to be reported in gastropods, since males are typically believed to be the active sex that searches for females. Our results build on previous evidence of the function played by mucus-trail following in the reproductive success of intertidal gastropods, through the ability of L. littorea to remotely detect the water-borne and air-borne sex-specific cues that are incorporated in their mucus.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)96-103
    Number of pages8
    JournalJournal of Molluscan Studies
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2015


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