When we think of animals and their sense of smell, we often consider their ability to locate food, detect danger, or find mates. However, nature has a way of surprising us with the intriguing and sometimes bizarre scents that attract various creatures.
1. Beer-Loving Salmon
Humans aren’t the only ones who appreciate the aroma of a freshly brewed batch of beer. Researchers at the Oregon Hatchery Research Center in Alsea, Oregon, have discovered that the scent of ale can effectively lure salmon back to their home hatcheries. Wild salmon rely on their keen sense of smell to navigate the arduous journey from the ocean to their native rivers for spawning. Some hatchery-released salmon, however, struggle to find their way home. To address this issue, researchers have been experimenting with various scents, and it turns out that the byproducts of beer production could serve as a potent attractant for these fish.
2. Ammonia-Appealing Insects
The odor of ammonia, repulsive to humans due to its urine-like scent, is a powerful attractant for insects like flies and mosquitoes. In 2021, researchers at the University of Connecticut discovered that these insects are drawn to ammonia not through their noses but thanks to tiny neurons in their antenna called sensilla. These insects utilize ammonia to locate food, and in the case of mosquitoes, to find human hosts. Researchers are exploring ways to block ammonia transporters in humans to thwart these pesky insects and prevent itchy bug bites.
3. Lemurs and “Stink Flirting”
In the animal kingdom, a strong sense of smell often plays a crucial role in finding potential mates. Ring-tailed lemurs have mastered the art of “stink flirting” during their mating season. Male lemurs secrete a distinct “fruity and floral aroma,” and they rub the glands on their wrists against their tails to wave this scent at females.
4. Frogs and Smelly Symbiosis
Some animals use odors in unexpected ways. In Brazil, scientists have observed that foul-smelling frogs employ bacteria on their backs to attract mates. This peculiar relationship constitutes a form of smelly symbiosis, as the bacteria emit an odor that helps the frogs find partners in exchange for a home on the frog’s back. This fascinating interplay between frogs and bacteria has also been observed in other amphibians, including salamanders.
5. Ants Attracted to Death
Not all scent-driven attractions are pleasant. Numerous species of ants and other insects are drawn to the scent of decay and death, which often promises decomposed meals. The titan arum, a plant found on the island of Sumatra in Indonesia, is renowned for its foul odor which is reminiscent of decomposing flesh. This scent attracts scavenging insects that unwittingly become pollinators for the plant. Another plant, the dead-horse arum, employs a similar strategy with a scent that mimics a rotting corpse to trick potential pollinators.
6. Dogs and Their Diverse Smell Preferences
Dogs are well-known for their exceptional sense of smell, which has been harnessed for various purposes, from detecting drugs and explosives to identifying diseases like cancer. However, dogs also exhibit a penchant for rolling in foul-smelling substances, a behavior believed to be either a way of marking territory or an evolutionary throwback to their wild ancestor, the wolf. Surprisingly, researchers have found that dogs can have an interest in sweeter scents like lavender, rose, blueberry, blackberry, and mint, revealing a more diverse and sophisticated olfactory world than previously believed.
7. Fatal Attraction in Mice and Rats
The parasite Toxoplasma gondii has a macabre way of influencing its hosts. This parasite, capable of infecting various organisms, reduces anxiety in mice and rats it infects, making them bolder. The ultimate goal of T. gondii is for the infected rodents to be consumed by cats, the only hosts in which the parasite reproduces. Studies have shown that infected rodents are strangely attracted to the smell of cat urine. This attraction appears to persist even when the parasite is no longer present.
In the animal kingdom, the sense of smell is a multifaceted tool that animals use for survival, communication, and even reproduction. The wide range of scents that attract different species highlights the complexity and diversity of olfactory preferences in the natural world.
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This article by Trinity Sparke was first published by One Green Planet on 24 October 2023. Image Credit :Albert Beukhof/Shutterstock.