The Biological Purpose of Pheromones in the Animal Kingdom

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Pheromones are interesting biological components in all animals (and possibly humans!) that are secreted from sweat glands and scent glands for various purposes. There are several types of pheromones. However, not all are able to be measured or tested.

We know that pheromones exist because of the tests we have done on certain animals, such as moths, that show their existence and purpose. This article will take a look at the biological purpose of pheromones in the animal kingdom and some examples of each.

Biological Purpose of Pheromones in the Animal Kingdom

Which Animals Produce Pheromones and What Are Their Purposes?

Animals are pretty incredible. They can do amazing things! For example, bugs can turn our food waste into fuel! Here are some of the top animals that produce pheromones and which types they produce, as well as the purpose.


Bugs, such as certain moths produce pheromones for the purpose of reproducing. We are able to extract pheromones of a certain type of moth to study them, and we’ve found that these are compounds that can be picked up by other bugs and sensed within the species.

Bugs also use pheromones to help each other find food and to run away from danger. For example, an ant can give off a fear pheromone, and the other ants will run away with it, back to the safety of the main house.

Since insect pheromones are easiest for us to measure and understand, we use them to remove pests. Beekeepers often use queen bee pheromones as well to help control a colony of bees and bring them safely to a new home, as bees will always follow the scent of their queen.

Cats and Dogs

Cats and dogs, and other mammals have similar pheromones. They usually include:

  • Pheromones that are released during nursing from the mother to the babies (in the milk or by scent) to calm the babies
  • Pheromones of fear to warn other animals in the group of danger
  • Pheromones that work as “scent labels” that tell animals of the same family that they are related
  • Pheromones that work as “scenting markers” and show other animals which territory is theirs and which isn’t
  • Pheromones that are released during intercourse or to signal readiness to mate and reproduce

The pheromones of other mammals are the most useful in understanding the pheromones of humans, as we are also mammals. The purpose of these “scents” is for other animals of the same species to communicate with a lack of language.

Squid and Octopi

Surprisingly, squid and octopus eggs appear to have a certain pheromone that causes any male squid that touches them to become violent to another male squid nearby, according to National Geographic. This strange reaction is the result of pheromones. Although we don’t know the exact reason for it, it could be due to a need for the male to protect the eggs from other males or to defend his family.

Scientists are still studying pheromones in all species, and these chemicals are something new that isn’t completely understood yet. What we can learn from the pheromone reactions in squid is that these chemicals do impact behavior in others, outside of what we may have previously thought was possible.


Humans also have pheromones, although we have not yet proven them with a chemical compound that can be physically studied. Due to our knowledge of pheromones in the animal kingdom, we know that humans likely exhibit similar abilities. Many scientists believe that if we do have pheromones, they would have been something we developed in prehistoric times before we learned more advanced communication.

For this reason, it is likely that pheromones exist in our mothers when we are born, in potential mates (dates), and when feeling fear. For example, we may feel afraid if someone close to us is feeling fear. This reaction can be attributed to an empathetic response, but many scientists believe that it’s simply pheromones and that we can tell how someone is feeling by picking up on them.


Many other animals have pheromones, and studying these can help us learn more about behavior. In some cases, like in the example of squid, pheromones seem to play no biological advantage. However, knowing what we know about animal behavior, these are simply forms of communication that we don’t understand so well as humans, who communicate primarily through language.

What Types of Pheromones Are There?

The most common types of pheromones studied are:

  • Reactive pheromones- The fear response
  • Sexual pheromones- Chemical compounds that cause two animals to mate or be “attracted”
  • Mother pheromones- Pheromones released by the mother to calm her children
  • Labeling pheromones- Pheromones that label members of the same family or species or simply announce the presence of an outsider
  • Marking pheromones- Pheromones that are used to mark territory

We can also see outlier examples that only exist in certain species, such as the example of the squid and octopus. These examples are the more interesting ones that scientists want to pay more attention to, as they can give more insight into our wonderful natural world and how it works.


If you’re still confused about pheromones or want to learn how they work in humans, head on over to BetterHelp’s advice column and blog today. You can learn more about the human body and mind work and find resources for any mental health topic.