Chemical attraction?

March 24, 2009

Research published in last month’s Chemistry and Biodiversity journal heralded the discovery of a new compound “tuataric acid”. Yes, isolated from our very own tuatara.

Stefan Schulz and his colleagues at University of Braunschweig, and collaborator Paul Weldon at the Smithsonian Institution, have analysed the constituents of the cloacal secretions in tuatara and found an unexpectedly diverse array of compounds. As tuatara have no external sexual organs, the cloaca is the “one stop shop” opening at their posterior end, with prominent skin glands on either side of the opening that secrete a greasy white substance. When the tuatara secretions were analysed, Schulz and colleagues found over 150 different types of glyceride-based molecules, including one never-before seen compound, which they dubbed “tuataric acid”.

Perhaps even more excitingly though (for me at least), was the finding that individual tuatara secrete specific mixtures of these glycerides and that the makeup of these individual profiles remains stable over years. This could provide a mechanism for chemical recognition of individual tuatara, a finding which ties in nicely with some behavioural work we have recently been doing on tuatara.

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