Animal Senses - Smell
Botswana Wildlife Behaviour

© Impala testing the air
The sense of smell is widely used in animal behaviour to detect food, danger, sexual readiness and to determine the presence of a competitor.

By Leigh Kemp

Botswana Widlife Guide to Animals Sense of Smell

Animals will scent-mark their territories to advertise their presence to others that pick up the scent and take action accordingly. These scent glands can be anal, as in the Hyena that rubs its scent on grass stems.

The Hyena's marking is a foul smelling paste that has caught many grass chewers by surprise. A colleague of mine had the unpleasant experience of plucking a stalk of grass, and without hesitation stuck it in his mouth only to find that he had taken a huge piece of hyena paste with the grass.

His discomfort lasted a long while. The scent glands may also be on the face as in many antelope. They will rub the gland on bushes or grass to advertise their territory.

Spraying a Message

Other forms of scent marking include spraying dung as in the hippo or utilizing dung middens as in the Rhino. Predators such as Lions and Leopard will spray urine on the trees and bushes to scent mark their territories. Other members of the same species will then pick up these scents and react accordingly.The sense of smell is used in finding food by many animals. Predators such as Lions and Hyenas can scent blood or carcasses from a great distance away and combined with the sense of hearing they will choose to react to the scent. Fruit bats find ripe fruit in a bunch by smell and predators such as Jackal can smell prey underground.

It's in The Taste

The sense of taste ties in with scent when it comes to feeding as these two senses are closely related due to the relationship between the nose and mouth. Most animals will know what they can eat by the sight or scent of an object but in some cases the young will taste an object they find during their learning process

When watching young Baboons they will be seen popping things in their mouths and then taking them out or spitting them out immediately. Their mothers normally teach them what to eat, but when they are not in sight of their mothers they will often find objects that will need investigation.

Some mammals have an organ in the roof of their mouths known as the Jacobsen's Organ that enables the animal to detect substances such as steroids thereby assisting it with taste and scent. Muscular contractions pump chemicals into the organ allowing the animal to discover smells and taste that are important.

The muscular contractions are seen as a curling of the animal's lip, known as flehmen. This is most noticeable when a male is testing a female for readiness. He will allow the females urine to fall on his lip or mouth and the contraction will bring the Jacobsen's organ into.

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