The ability to discriminate among individuals plays a fundamental role in the establishment of social relationships in animals. We examined how Mongolian gerbils (Meriones unguiculatus) discriminate among individuals using odor. In the first experiment, the ability of male gerbils to discriminate among five odor sources from different individuals was investigated using a habituation-dishabituation paradigm. After male gerbils had been habituated to a scent from one individual, they were exposed to familiar and unfamiliar scents from different donors simultaneously. Where urine and ventral gland secretions were used, the subjects spent more time investigating novel odors than familiar ones, suggesting that they were able to discriminate individual differences in these odor sources. However, with the scents of feces and saliva, they could detect, but could not discriminate individual differences; with scent from inside the pinnae, they could not even detect. In the second experiment, we tested whether cross-habituation occurred between the scents of urine and ventral gland secretions. A male was exposed repeatedly to urine from one of two familiar donor males during four habituation trials, and was then exposed to the ventral gland secretions from two donors simultaneously. The subject males spent more time investigating scents of ventral gland secretions, but there was no difference in the investigation time between ventral gland scents from the two donors. These results suggest that male gerbils discriminate among individuals using odors from urine and ventral gland secretions and that cross-habituation may not occur between these scents during social-memory formation.
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