Fox scents' 'multiple messages' analysed by Cardiff scientist for Channel 4
A scientist has described the complexity of analysing scent marks left by foxes for a live TV programme.
Scent communication is often thought of as the most important method of communication for mammals.
Dr Eleanor Kean, from Cardiff University, said foxes could be leaving "multiple messages," such as the state of their health.
She found secretion from an adult female fox contained more than 80 compounds for Channel 4's Foxes Live.
Food, perfume, pharmaceutical, and forensic industries were employed to do the analysis.
"We don't know exactly what the foxes are encoding in these secretions," said Dr Kean, of the university's School of Biosciences.
"We know from our study of otters that their complex mixtures of odours differ with the age, sex and reproductive status and even individual identity.
"It is likely the same is true for foxes, but we need to analyse many more samples to work out what the foxes are saying.
"The number of compounds we have found in the secretions suggests the foxes are leaving some very complex and possibly multiple messages, for example about their dominance or health."
Many species of mammals leave long-lasting scent marks in prominent places, possibly to advertise reproductive status, to signal the use of resources or to mark territory.
The scent is often a complex blend of chemicals. More than 40 years ago, researchers found 12 volatile components in the secretion of a female fox.