Stink of Stinkpot Turtle Identified: ω-Phenylalkanoic Acids

See allHide authors and affiliations

Science  17 Jun 1977:
Vol. 196, Issue 4296, pp. 1347-1349
DOI: 10.1126/science.196.4296.1347


The exocrine secretion of the "stinkpot turtle," Sternotherus odoratus, discharged by the animals in response to disturbance, contains four ω-phenylalkanoic acids (phenylacetic, 3-phenylpropionic, 5-phenylpentanoic, and 7-phenylheptanoic). The last two of these are new natural products. The first two are powerfully malodorous and responsible for the stench of the fluid. Lesser components, including several aliphatic acids, are also present. Only a few milligrams of secretion are discharged by a turtle at any one time. Although bioassays with fish suggest that the secretion has the potential to serve as a feeding deterrent to predators, it is argued that Sternotherus does not ordinarily discharge enough fluid to effect this action and may employ its secretion only as an aposematic signal that warns predators of its more generalized undesirability.