The Art of Smell
The smell of freshly baked bread, rain on the parched plains of Africa, a hardwood fire after a long day in the bush, the cow-like smell of a herd of buffalo in thick bush. These smells evoke a certain sense of wellbeing or possible danger.
But, how does it work?
Odour, or smell, is caused by one or more volatized chemical compounds that are bound to helix transmembrane protein bound to a metalloprotein that causes an electrical pulse that is interpreted by the brain as a pleasant or unpleasant experience, that may or may not corelate to a previously learnt experience.
In short, chemical compounds are bound to metal compounds like copper, iron and manganese proteins and then interpreted by a small patch of special tissue at the back of the nose.
This helps you to distinguish between ‘good’ or ‘bad’ smells. Smell is very personal and related to age, health, gender and personal history. No one smells the roses quite like you do!
In nature smell is used to detect possible danger, food, predators, suitable mates, and even water. The total number of olfactory receptacles in the nose can be measured, and this is how we could put together a list of the Top 10 animals with the Best Sense of Smell.
In 10th place, Guinea pigs: These little guys can follow the smell of food through mazes in studies on intelligence and smell detection.
9th place goes to dogs: Man’s best friend have a very focused sense of smell, which is why trained dogs are used to detect contraband at airports and track humans in difficult situations.
In 8th place, we get the Clawed Frog family. In South Africa they are represented by the Platanna or African Clawed Frog; Xenopus Laevis. These frogs rely on their sense of smell to detect food in their murky water environment.
7th place goes to horses. Like zebra, horses have been on the menu of larger predators for a very long time. A good sense of smell may just help to safeguard the herd.
6th place goes to, wait for it, turtles! More specifically Chinese fresh water turtles. Feeding on molluscs buried in mud necessitated a very good sense of smell.
In 5th place, mice. Need we say more about these nocturnal marauders ability to find even the most well-hidden food?
4th goes to cows. They can detect smells from about 6km away!
3rd place goes to a scavenger called Opossum. These animals seek food on the forest floor in their native North- and South American habitat.
Second place goes to: Rats! Their superior sense of smell has been harnessed to detect landmines in war torn countries.
And in first place, our very own African Elephant; Loxodonta africana. With a very large trunk; little more than a modified nose, their sense of smell is unparalleled in the animal kingdom. They can detect minute amounts of scent on the wind and react to the stimulus quickly and effectively, either running away or facing the source of the smell.
And we as humans; well we came in at a very respectable 13th place!