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Articles - April 2012
Thursday, March 22, 2012

BY LINDA BAKER

0412_NextEstrogen drives male snakes crazy. Crazy for other male snakes that is. In an experiment conducted in 2008-2010 in the famed garter snake caverns of Manitoba, Canada, Oregon State University zoology researchers found that boosting the estrogen level of male snakes causes them to secrete the same pheromones that females use to lure suitors; the chemically enhanced males then attracted dozens of other males eager to mate. The study, published last year, was one of the first in the field to establish estrogen as the trigger for pheromone production. The results raise concerns about the environmental impact of chemicals that mimic the effect of estrogens. Robert Mason, an OSU professor of zoology, says the estrogen used in the experiment is identical to the female hormone found in humans. “We didn’t whop these guys with huge doses,” Mason adds, noting the snakes were given the same amount of estrogen found in female snakes. He says the next step is to investigate the hormonal, cellular and genetic processes that actually cause the pheromone to be produced. Birth control pills, pesticides, PCBs and other estrogen-mimicking compounds are prevalent in the environment, Mason says. “These garter snakes could be the canaries in the coal mine.”

 

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