Mateo, J.M. 2006. Development of individually distinct recognition cues. Developmental Psychobiology, 48, 508-519.
Despite extensive research on the functions of kin recognition, little is known about ontogenetic changes in the cues mediating such recognition. In Belding's ground squirrels, Spermophilus beldingi, secretions from oral glands are both individually distinct and kin distinct, and function in social recognition across many contexts. Behavioral studies of recognition and kin preferences suggest that these cues may change across development, particularly around the time of weaning and emergence from natal burrows (around 25 days of age). I used an habituation-discrimination task with captive S. beldingi, presenting subjects with odors collected from a pair of pups at several ages across early development. I found that at 21days of age, but not at 7 or 14, young produce detectable odors. Odors are not individually distinct, however, until 28-d of age, after young have emerged from their burrows and begun foraging. In addition, an individual's odor continues to develop after emergence: odors produced by an individual at 20 and 40 days of age are perceived as dissimilar, yet odors produced at 28 and 40 days are treated as similar. Developmental changes in odors provide a proximate explanation for why S. beldingi littermate preferences are not consolidated until after natal emergence, and demonstrate that conspecifics must update their recognition templates as young develop.