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Structural formula of bombykol , the first clearly chemically identified insect pheromone
500,000 scent glands of the female silk moth ( Bombyx mori L.) were needed to elucidate the molecular structure of the bombykol.

A pheromone ( suitcase word from ancient Greek φέρειν phérein ' to carry' and hormone ) is a messenger substance for the transmission of information between individuals within a species. The term also serves to differentiate it from other semiochemicals such as the allomons , which are used for communication between individuals of different species. The chemist Peter Karlson and the zoologist Martin Lüscher coined the term pheromone in 1959 and defined it as follows:

"Substances that are released from an individual to the outside and trigger specific reactions in another individual of the same species"

- Peter Karlson, Martin Lüscher, 1959.

In 1959, after almost 20 years of work, Adolf Butenandt succeeded in finally extracting and purifying the first known and proven pheromone, bombykol , from the glands of more than 500,000 female silk moths .

Stimulus absorption

Pheromones are perceived subconsciously. They can influence reproductive physiological processes or corresponding behavior. In contrast to the reception of stimuli via the olfactory organ on the roof of the nasal cavity, the processing of which by the olfactory bulb and the primary olfactory system is the prerequisite for conscious olfactory perception , the effects of pheromones in vertebrates are largely mediated via an additional (accessory) system and usually go, but not always from the vomeronasal organ . This consists of a special grouping of sensory receptors, arranged around a cartilaginously supported deep mucous membrane pocket, which is connected to the oral or nasal cavity by a fine duct. Pheromones influence sexual behavior , sympathy and antipathy and social contacts. The vomeronasal organ is only found in some adult people - as an imperfectly developed organ that is no longer functional. It is created in all people during the embryonic period, but later regresses.


Semiochemicals can be classified and further subdivided according to their effect on the recipient. For example, pheromones that only trigger a behavioral response in the recipient are referred to as releaser pheromones. However, pheromones that cause a significant physiological change in the recipient are called primer pheromones.


A further classification is possible via the function of the pheromone. There are aggregation pheromones that cause bark beetles , for example , to congregate to infest a tree. Sex pheromones are used to attract sexual partners. Aphrodisiac capheromones are used for sexual stimulation or, since they can act as food poisons and are transmitted to the females during the mating act and then to the brood, to increase the brood's chance of survival. Alarm pheromones are used to warn of predators and marker and trail pheromones to mark territories and paths.

Mode of action

The mode of action of insect pheromones is well studied and understood. Over 90% of the scientific literature on pheromones by 2010 was concerned with insect pheromones. The remaining literature deals with pheromones in amphibians , fish , worms, and many other animal species. The effect of pheromones in other animal species is sometimes less well understood. In the case of fish pheromones, for example, the substance in question is sometimes not isolated or a behavioral response could not be clearly demonstrated. The behavioral response of vertebrate animals to vertebrate pheromones is partly overlaid by other processes, so that it is difficult to demonstrate a clear mode of action.

See also


  • Hans Jürgen Bestmann, Otto Vostrowsky (1993): Chemical information systems of nature: Insect pheromones. In: Chemistry in Our Time. Vol. 27, No. 3, pp. 127-133. doi : 10.1002 / ciuz.19930270304 .
  • Stefan Schulz: The Chemistry of Pheromones and Other Semiochemicals II. Verlag Springer (2005), 341 pages, ISBN 3-540-21308-2 .

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Albert Gossauer: Structure and reactivity of biomolecules , Verlag Helvetica Chimica Acta, Zurich, 2006, p. 134, ISBN 978-3-906390-29-1 .
  2. ^ Peter Karlson, Martin Lüscher: Pheromones: a New Term for a Class of Biologically Active Substances. In: Nature. 183, 1959, pp. 55-56, doi : 10.1038 / 183055a0 .
  3. ^ Edward O. Wilson, William H. Bossert: Chemical communication among animals. In: Recent progress in hormone research. 19 (1963): p. 673.
  4. ^ A b Richard Doty: The Great Pheromone Myth. Johns Hopkins University Press (2010), 278 pages, ISBN 978-0801893476 , p. 6.
  5. Marcus C. Stensmyr, Florian Maderspacher: Pheromones: Fish Fear Factor. In: Current Biology. 22, 2012, pp. R183-R186, doi : 10.1016 / j.cub.2012.02.025 .