The Sense of Smell in the Animal World

So you think you have a keen nose for things like dirty diapers or food that has spoiled? Read on to find out about the olfactory superiority of some animals in the world.

It’s a very good thing that we humans have brains that can reason and solve problems. If we had to use our noses in the manner that most animals in the animal kingdom utilize their noses, we probably would not survive for long.

Consider the following facts.

Animals with poor eyesight usually have a highly developed sense of smell. Some examples include bears, moles, shrews, and rhinos.

A keen sense of smell allows animals to locate food as well as avoid becoming food for predators. Polar bears rely heavily on their sense of smell when attempting to locate food. A polar bear will lift its nose skyward to catch any scents drifting its way on the air currents. A seal can be up to five miles away and the bear will trace its location. A polar bear can also smell a seal that has taken refuge under snow or ice that is over three feet thick.

Some bats are frugivores (fruit eaters) and others are nectavores (nectar drinkers). The highly developed sense of smell in many Old World fruit bats is due to their long muzzles which have quite a bit of room for an abundance of olfactory receptors. Many fruit-eating bats sniff out and consume mostly overripe fruit, keeping the tree or bush healthy and fruit fly free.

Swine have an acute sense of smell.

They use their snouts to push through dirt and other ground cover to forage for food. Because of this, pigs are used in Europe to find truffles which are heavily used in French cooking. Why isn’t the pig’s nose bent out of shape by its snuffling? The pig’s snout keeps its shape due to a prenasal bone and a ring of cartilage in the tip of the nose.

Animals of the western United States considered big game animals include mountain goats, Dall sheep, elk, pronghorns, and moose.

These, along with white-tailed deer, have learned over time to utilize their sharp sense of smell in combination with the prevailing wind currents to detect any predators.

A good sense of smell enables mature male animals to find the female when she is in season. For example, a male polar bear can detect a female in heat which is 90 miles away. If you have ever owned a female cat that has not been spayed, you know rather quickly when the pet is in heat. Every neighborhood tom, even ones you have never seen before, shows up outside your window at night to ask if she can come out to play!

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12 Responses to “The Sense of Smell in the Animal World”
  1. Judy Sheldon Says...

    On June 23, 2008 at 6:15 am

    Sandra, you’re right. Both my cat and dog are busily sniffing out things. My cat tracks a mouse that way and my dog determines who has been where. Interesting article.

    Thanks and take care.

  2. IcyCucky Says...

    On June 23, 2008 at 12:08 pm

    This is great Sandra…I’m pretty sensitive to foul smell, so I’m glad I don’t have to use my nose to smell my way around..

  3. Ruby Hawk Says...

    On June 23, 2008 at 2:48 pm

    An Educational article well written. Thank you

  4. Gonusi Says...

    On June 26, 2008 at 6:50 am

    A nice article! Truffels with pasta are great indeed, I hope the pigs used for finding them at least get to taste the leftovers, since it doesn’t seem an easy job.

  5. nobert soloria bermosa Says...

    On June 27, 2008 at 7:01 am

    very educational, thanks Sandra

  6. fred Says...

    On June 29, 2008 at 1:48 am

    This was great fir my school assignment!

  7. Noel Erese Says...

    On November 22, 2008 at 5:59 am

    Thanks for your help, a big help for my sermon illustration on 2 Cor. 2:14-16. God can smell the kind of worship we have. God bless.

  8. Clay Hurtubise Says...

    On December 6, 2008 at 9:36 pm

    My sense of smell may be weak, but I’m told I really stink!

  9. Rory MAgowan Says...

    On February 18, 2009 at 1:06 pm

    This was extremely useful to me as i was bad in school and had to write an essay on the importance of smell to animals and was also quite interesting to read anyway!

  10. Alex Says...

    On October 6, 2009 at 12:25 pm

    Maybe I missed it, but could you share what your sources are for some of the numbers in the article – in particular I’m interested in “A seal can be up to five miles away and the bear will trace its location. A polar bear can also smell a seal that has taken refuge under snow or ice that is over three feet thick.”


  11. Sandra L. Petersen Says...

    On October 7, 2009 at 12:06 pm

    Hi, Alex. When I wrote this article, this website did not emphasize citing sources. As a result, I would have to do a lot of digging to relocate the sources for much of this. I did, however, find the source for the particular bit of information in which you are most interested. The polar bear information came from this site:
    I hope this helps. Thanks for reading!

  12. Colette Says...

    On February 11, 2010 at 6:26 pm

    I am a Docent at the local Zoo. Your article added info to my talk for school classes when they come to our Living Classrooms, held in different locations in the Zoo. I talk about and demonstrate the animals’ sense of smell in our Jungle. Thanks!

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