TitleHow to make a sexy snake: estrogen activation of female sex pheromone in male red-sided garter snakes
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2012
AuthorsParker, MR, Mason, RT
JournalJournal of Experimental Biology
Volume215
Pagination723-730
Type of ArticleJournal Article
ISSN0022-0949
Abstract

Vertebrates indicate their genetic sex to conspecifics using secondary sexual signals, and signal expression is often activated by sex hormones. Among vertebrate signaling modalities, the least is known about how hormones influence chemical signaling. Our study species, the red-sided garter snake (Thamnophis sirtalis parietalis), is a model vertebrate for studying hormonal control of chemical signals because males completely rely on the female sex pheromone to identify potential mates among thousands of individuals. How sex hormones can influence the expression of this crucial sexual signal is largely unknown. We created two groups of experimental males for the first experiment: Sham (blank implants) and E2 (17 beta-estradiol implants). E2 males were vigorously courted by wild males in outdoor bioassays, and in a Y-maze E2 pheromone trails were chosen by wild males over those of small females and were indistinguishable from large female trails. Biochemically, the E2 pheromone blend was similar to that of large females, and it differed significantly from Shams. For the second experiment, we implanted males with 17 beta-estradiol in 2007 but removed the implants the following year (2008; Removal). That same year, we implanted a new group of males with estrogen implants (Implant). Removal males were courted by wild males in 2008 (implant intact) but not in 2009 (removed). Total pheromone quantity and quality increased following estrogen treatment, and estrogen removal re-established male-typical pheromone blends. Thus, we have shown that estrogen activates the production of female pheromone in adult red-sided garter snakes. This is the first known study to quantify both behavioral and biochemical responses in chemical signaling following sex steroid treatment of reptiles in the activation/organization context. We propose that the homogametic sex (ZZ, male) may possess the same targets for activation of sexual signal production, and the absence of the activator (17 beta-estradiol in this case) underlies expression of the male phenotype.

URL<Go to ISI>://WOS:000300415400011
DOI10.1242/jeb.064923