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WThat animals can detect, by smell, substances undetectable by humans has been long suggested. For example, in 1623, Charles Butler wrote in The Feminine Monarchie that an injured bee’s ‘ranke smell’ attracts bees and being angry will sting humans whilst, in the late 19th century, Joseph Lintner recorded that huge numbers of male silk moths would congregate around a female moth. Lintner concluded that they were attracted by some sort of odour in other words, they detected a chemical substance produced by the female moth.

It was only in the twentieth century, however, that pheromones have been isolated and characterised. The first pheromone was identified by Adolf Butenandt and for this work he shared the 1939 Nobel Prize in chemistry with Leopold Ružicka. Butenandt was unable to accept the award though since, in 1937, Hitler had banned Germans from accepting the award after Carl von Ossietzky was awarded the 1936 Nobel Peace Prize. He did finally receive the medal, but not the prize money, in 1949.