New tricks for old dogs: Ancient pheromone blend as an alternative for copulation in advanced salamanders

Margo Maex, Ines Van Bocxlaer, Dag Treer, Wim Vandebergh, Sunita Janssenswillen, Gwij Stegen, Philippe Kok, Bert Willaert, Severine Matthijs, Erik Martens, Anneleen Mortier, Henri De Greve, Paul Proost, Franky Bossuyt

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingMeeting abstract (Book)

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Males of the advanced salamanders (Salamandroidea) attain internal fertilization without a copulatory organ by depositing a spermatophore on the substrate in the environment, which females subsequently take up with their cloaca. The aquatically reproducing modern Eurasian newts (Salamandridae) have taken this to extremes, since most species do not display close physical contact during courtship, but instead largely rely on females following the male track at spermatophore deposition. Although pheromones have been widely assumed to represent an important aspect of male courtship, molecules able to induce the female following behaviour that is the prelude for successful insemination have not been identified yet. Here we show that uncleaved Sodefrin Precursor-like Factor (SPF) protein pheromones are sufficient to elicit such behaviour in female palmate newts (Lissotriton helveticus). Combined transcriptomic and proteomic evidence demonstrates that males simultaneously tail-fan multiple ca. 20 kDa glycosylated SPF proteins during courtship. Notably, molecular dating estimates show that the diversification of these proteins already started in the late Palaeozoic, about 300 million years ago. Our study thus not only extends the use of uncleaved SPF proteins outside terrestrially reproducing plethodontid salamanders, but also reveals one of the oldest vertebrate pheromone systems.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publication21st Benelux Congress of Zoology
Number of pages1
Publication statusPublished - 12 Dec 2014
Event21st Benelux Congress of Zoology - Liege, Belgium
Duration: 12 Dec 201413 Dec 2014


Conference21st Benelux Congress of Zoology


  • pheromone
  • salamander
  • evolution


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