What Makes A Male Goat Irresistible To The Female? Scientists Discover Pheromones In “Goaty Odor”

By Shweta Iyer on February 27, 2014 4:30 PM EST

goats
Researchers analyzed male goat odor to identify a unique, citrus-scented ingredient that speaks directly to the females. (Photo: Photo courtesy of Shutterstock)

He walks past her and his feral body odor is simply intoxicating. She's enraptured and falls under his spell. If you think this is a scene out of an AXE commercial, then think again. This is what happens in a barnyard where there are goats. At sexual maturity, male goats have a natural body scent that stimulates the female goat's reproductive systems. Researchers reporting in Current Biology, analyzed the male goat's odor and identified a unique, citrus-scented ingredient that speaks directly to the females.

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According to a press release Thursday, the researchers found a pheromone in the goat's scent that activates the central reproductive axis. It was already known that male goats use their hair and not urine to show the "male effect" pheromone activity. Organic solvent extracts of male goat hair retain that activity, but a specific primer pheromone remained unidentified. Primer pheromones are those that elicit the long-term physiological events required for ovulation and reproduction, as opposed to more immediate sexual behaviors induced by releaser pheromones.

The researchers decided to focus on the pheromone components of the male essence, and particularly on the largely unexplored neutral fraction. They discovered that the goat essence was primarily produced on the head skin. So, the researchers collected these volatile essences with the help of a specially designed head cap. After collecting essences from normal and castrated male goats for one week, they analyzed what they had to identify its chemical components.

Those analyses uncovered several chemicals specific to normal male goats, including one in particular, 4-ethyloctanal, with the power to activate the gonadotropin-releasing hormone pulse generator in the female brain, which governs the reproductive endocrine system. The researchers were able to show the effects of that ingredient using a method they developed for real-time electrophysiological monitoring of a key part of the goats' brains.

"In 4-ethyloctanal, we identified a novel chemical that had never been demonstrated in nature before. This was our first surprise," said Yukari Takeuchi, a co-author of the study.

The researchers also found that 4-ethyloctanal oxidizes to 4-ethyloctanoic acid, which has been known for its role in attracting females to males and is responsible for the typical smell that we encounter when around goats.

Although the tests were conducted on goats, the researchers say that the findings may apply to other livestock and perhaps humans as well, since the action and structure of the brain's reproductive center is almost similar among mammals.

Source: Murata, K. Takeuchi, Y. et al. "Identification of an Olfactory Signal Molecule that Activates the Central Regulator of Reproduction in Goats." Current Biology.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

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