The other day I had to get up and move to new seat on the subway. The cause of my discomfort was a young woman who reeked of musk—the scent that male musk deer (Moschus moschiferus) use to attract females. I don't know why this woman wanted attention from female musk deer but I was pretty sure she wasn't going to find any on the subway.
The main scent is due to muscone [see Monday's Molecule #127] and nowadays the muscone used in perfumes is completely artificial. But that wasn't always the case. Musk originally came from the scent glands of Asian musk deer [MUSK An Essay].
Only the mature male Moschus produces musk. The substance occurs in only one location on the deer's body: on its abdomen, just in front of its penis, is a hairy pouch known as the musk gland. This sac is about the size of a golf ball. It is composed of several layers of skin, with two openings immediately above the animal's urethra.I'm told that humans of both sexes get turned on by this smell. If so, the woman on the subway is not only going to attract female musk deer but she's also going to get a lot of attention from both men and women of a different species. I guess it's a good thing that I freed up the seat next to her.
In the early summer, unripe liquid musk drains into the gland from the surrounding tissues, and is stored there for some weeks or months. During the course of this time, the musk - 30 grams of it or so - "matures" into a granular, waxy, reddish-brown substance with an extremely potent and familiar smell.
When the musk has ripened - shortly before the autumn rutting season - the deer begin to discharge it mixed with their urine, apparently to mark their territory and attract females. (This behavior is familiar to anyone who has come in contact with a tomcat that "sprays.") Even in winter, male musk deer have been reported to leave behind fragrant red snow, rather than yellow.
There ought to be rules about perfume, When a man or a woman is wearing too much, they should be told to go home and take a shower—with lots of unscented soap.