Females of many species discriminate among males when choosing a mate and this
can bear indirect and direct benefits including the avoidance of parasite transmission
from infested males. In rodents, this may be mediated by androgen hormones that
affect the expression of urinary odors. Female choosiness may also vary with a female’s
infestation status, with infested females being less choosy. In the current study we tested
the preference of cooperatively breeding highveld mole-rat (Cryptomys hottentotus
hottentotus) females for male urinary odors from healthy males and those naturally
infested with a cestode (Mathevotaenia sp.). Thirty females (15 healthy, 15 infested)
were allowed to explore a Y-maze with urine samples from healthy and infested males
and the frequency of entering choice arms and chambers as well as the duration
spend with each odor sample was recorded. Infestation status did neither affect male
body mass, urinary testosterone, nor cortisol levels or the body condition of females.
Although overall female activity was not affected by infestation status, infested females
entered choice arms and chambers significantly less frequently than healthy females.
Surprisingly, healthy females preferred odors from infested males while the opposite
was true for infested females, independent of male hormone levels. As the study species
lives in groups that tend to share the same infestation status, we suggest that highveld
mole-rat females may exhibit a preference for unfamiliar odors, possibly as an indicator
of genetic diversity, rather than discriminate between infestation status of males. Similar
mechanisms may also play a role in other social species.