Like all animals, the red fox uses chemical signals for social communication. The supracaudal or tail gland smells of violets, attributed to the presence of carotenoid degradation products, or apocarotenoids, which commonly occur as aromatics in flowers. We have more fully characterized the scent chemistry of the fox tail gland. Volatile chemicals were analyzed by gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS) and identified from their electron ionization mass spectra and Kovats retention indices. The 3 previously reported apocarotenoids were confirmed, and many additional compounds found. These include the apocarotenoids β-cyclocitral, β-homocitral, β-ionone, cyclic β-ionone, β-ionone-5,6-epoxide, α-ionene, α-ionone, 2,6,6-trimethylcyclohexanone (IUPAC 2,2,6-), 2,6,6-trimethyl-2-cyclohexen-1-one, 6-methyl-5-hepten-2-one (sulcatone), and geranyl acetone. Notably, sulcatone is a semiochemical in several species. 3,3-Dimethyl-2,7-octanedione was identified as a probable apocarotenoid which is likely to be a significant fox scent chemical. The γ-lactone of 4-hydroxyhexadecanoic acid (hexadecan-4-olide) was also found, one of a group of known mammalian signaling compounds. This rich mixture of volatile apocarotenoids implies an adequate consumption of plant carotenoids, which are known to be necessary for optimal health. Dietary carotenoids color the skin and feathers of some birds, used as a visual signal to conspecifics, and the floral aroma of the fox tail gland may provide an olfactory signal to other foxes.
Red fox, tail gland, scent chemicals, GC-MS analysis