Nature smells. It may sound rude, but whether it be the warning spray from the skunk or scent marking by tigers and various other territorial animals, the natural world kicks up a stink. Even humans produce scent. In fact, we release numerous scents, some of which can attract insects!
But why do animals need to output these smells? It’s not all about attracting pesky, biting insects, producing scent provides a range of biological services.
Finding a Mate
The driving force of life is the urge to find a mate and produce offspring and scent helps many animals do this. Male alligators, for example, have glands under their jaw that eject a strong smelling oil to attract mates. Pheromones, which is the name given to chemicals that allow communication between animals of the same species, are produced by many animals and can be used to determine if they are ready to mate. For example, male giraffes smell the urine of a female to work out if she is fertile.
Sex pheromones are exceedingly strong in the insect world. Some moths can detect pheromones from over three miles away, while some species can attract thousands of potential mates.
Perhaps the most well-known example of an animal using scent to fend of predators is the skunk. The skunk has two anal scent glands at their posterior, armed with an extremely smelly spray of sulphur containing chemicals. This foul smelling spray can reach the noses of predators miles away. It can also be an irritant to those that come into contact with it and can even cause temporary blindness. If a skunk is sufficiently alarmed, it uses muscles around the scent glands, to accurately spray chemicals into the face of the threat, sometimes over a distance of two metres.
Skunks are not the only animals which use scent to deter potential threats. Chicks of the European roller, vomit a smelly, orange liquid to deter predators. Guard ants in ant colonies release alarm pheromones when the ant nest is under attack, which causes other ants to defend the nest. Wasps use a similar mechanism, but they tag their pheromone onto the target to signal other wasps to attack.
Many animals have personal territories, and they need a way to claim them. It is common for animals to use their scent to mark their territory. Cats and antelopes, for example, have scent glands on their faces and spread scent by rubbing their face around their territory.
Animals also urinate to spread scent and mark their territory. Bears, for example, rub mud mixed with urine onto trees within their territory, while male musk ox and bison mark their territory by urinating on the ground. Closer to home, domestic dogs are frequently seen marking their territory by urinating on objects in their area, just like their wild counterparts the wolf.
It is clear that many animals use scent to help their survival, but which are the smelliest? Read more here.