The scent of your enemy is my friend? The acquisition of large carnivore scent by a smaller carnivore

Maximilian L. Allen, Micaela S. Gunther, Christopher C. Wilmers

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Scent marking is critical to intraspecific communication in many mammal species, but little is known regarding its role in communication among different species. We used 4 years of motion-triggered video to document the use of scent marking areas—termed “community scrapes”—by pumas (Puma concolor) ( and other carnivore species. We found that gray foxes (Urocyon cinereoargenteus) routinely rubbed their cheeks on puma scrapes (, and tested a series of hypotheses to determine its function. We found that gray foxes selected puma scrapes over other objects, and cheek rubbing by foxes was also correlated with how recently a puma had visited the scrape, suggesting that foxes were intent upon accumulating fresh puma scent. Cheek rubbing by foxes was not correlated with their breeding season or with how recently another fox had visited the site. Finally we found a cascading pattern in the occurrence of pumas, coyotes (Canis latrans) and gray foxes at community scrapes, suggesting that gray foxes may use puma scent to deter predation. This is the first published study to find evidence of a subordinate species using the scent of a dominant species to communicate with heterospecifics. The behavioral cascade we found in scent marking patterns also suggests that scent marking could be a mechanism that impacts the distribution and abundance of species. Additional videos pertaining to this article include, and

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)13-19
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Ethology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • Cheek rubbing
  • Communication
  • Interspecific interactions
  • Puma concolor
  • Scent marking
  • Urocyon cinereoargenteus

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology


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