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Do you have trouble getting along with your in-laws Maybe you just dont like the way they smell Many animals humans included can use odor to detect who may be a close genetic relation Depending on the species and their behavior patterns an animal can use that ability to avoid inbreeding or to make decisions about risking its life in order to help close kin -- while leaving distant relatives and strangers to fend for themselves A new study by a Cornell University researcher who spent five years studying Beldings ground squirrels in the California mountains is the first to show how odor recognition allows precise determination of close genetic relatives This is the first study to show which odors are used and how much those odors vary with kinship to see how animals use those odors to make their behavioral decisions about nepotism says Jill M Mateo a psychology research associate at Cornell University The study appears in the April 7 issue of Proceedings Biological Sciences journal Mateo found that when Beldings squirrels meet each other it takes only seconds for them to resolve whether theyre closely related They do that by analyzing secretions from glands at the corners of their mouths The squirrels also have scent glands on their backs Favoritism in Beldings squirrels is limited to mothers sisters and daughters A squirrel does recognize its nieces grandmothers and cousins but treats them more like outsiders The colonies of squirrel burrows are inhabited by females of various ages and some young males Male squirrels leave their birthplace after theyve been weaned Heres how Mateo cracked this scientific nut She knew the family ties of the squirrels because she placed identity tags on each new litter over the years To test the scent-detecting abilities of the squirrels she rubbed plastic tubes along their scent glands to get an odor
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