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Any chemical compound secreted by an organism in minute amounts to elicit a particular reaction from other organisms of the same species. Pheromones are widespread among insects and vertebrates (except birds) and are present in some fungi, slime molds, and algae. The chemicals may be secreted by special glands or incorporated into other substances (e.g., urine), shed freely, or deposited in selected locations. Pheromones are used to bring creatures together (e.g., in termite, bee, and ant colonies), lead them to food (e.g., in scent trails laid by ants), signal danger (e.g., when released by wounded fish to alert others), attract a mate and elicit sexual behaviour (numerous examples, possibly including humans), and influence sexual development (in many mammals and certain insects). Alarm pheromones often last a shorter time and travel a shorter distance than other types. In vertebrates, chemical stimuli often influence parent-young responses. Sex-attractant pheromones are used in certain products to lure and trap unwanted or harmful insects.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on pheromone, visit Britannica.com.