What are your favorite spring and summer smells? Lilacs? Freshly-cut grass? Rain? Grilled hamburgers? There are lots of great smells (scents) out there right now.
Correction: There are lots and lots of great scents out there. There are many of them we can’t smell—but some creatures can. Read these pages for some amazing examples.
Here’s the point: Lots of things that we can’t possibly observe happen right under our noses. Creation is much more complex than we’ll ever know.
One thing we do know: We don’t need to smell lilacs, freshly-cut grass, rain, or any great spring scent. But those smells are still there. That’s a gift from our Creator. Enjoy!
Who smells what? See for yourself. Put small samples of these things onto a plate: rotten fruit, spoiled meat, dry sugar, honey. Put the plate outside for a few days. Check it often to see which creatures visit each food.
Instead of posting “No Trespassing” signs, squirrels mark their territories with scents. They smell each other’s scents to read these invisible “No Trespassing” signs.
Some squirrels recognize individual squirrel scents. Sniff, sniff: “Mom’s home.” “Chip’s been here.” Or “A stranger’s nearby!” That helps keep squirrel families safe.
Squirrels can also sniff out some predators (other creatures who might want to eat them)! They recognize the scents of wild cats, foxes, and snakes. Snake scent can drive some squirrels nuts. Because snakes can be sneaky, God gave squirrels an early warning system.
Smelling in Stereo
Instead of using a nose, a snake smells with its forked tongue. It flicks out its tonguento collect scent molecules from the air. Then it rubs those molecules onto a specialbtwo-part “scent detector” in its mouth. It can smell its food (like squirrels), other snakes, and enemies that way.
The tongue is forked so that the snake can follow scent trails. If the odor is stronger on one side, the snake turns in that direction. That’s great for tracking prey or a mate, or for following other snakes to a winter den.
A snake can’t see much from flat on the ground. So it surveys the scene by smelling in stereo. Perfect!
Moths are night fliers. They usually smell, rather than see, the flowers they visit. Moth-pollinated flowers often give off scents at night, not during the day.
Some moths also smell each other. A male Cecropia moth can smell a female Cecropia that’s more than a mile away. He doesn’t smell other female moths, only the Cecropia. That’s his mate.
A certain spider hunts Cecropia moths. The spider can’t fly. It must sit and wait for a Cecropia to come to it. What are the chances of that happening? Actually, they’re very good! This spider makes the female Cecropia scent and wafts it into the night air. That lures in the male Cecropia.
There’s more. Another spider hunts two different types of moths that fly at slightly different times of night. The spider wafts scent A into the air when moth A is out. It wafts scents A and B when both moths A and B are out. Later it wafts scent B only when only moth B should be out.
There’s more yet, but you get the point: Creation is fantastic. Much of its web hangs together by scents. Thank God that certain creatures can smell them. And sometimes, we should thank God that we can’t!
Sensing the World
Imagine this: Someone knocks on your door, but you don‘t know who’s there. What do you do? Peek through a window, right? That’s how you find out if the person is a relative, a friend, or a stranger. You need to know that before you open the door, so you peek.
Dogs and their wild relatives do the same thing. They need to know what other animals are nearby so they can defend their territory, their food, and their mate. But instead of peeking, they sniff. One or two sniffs tells them all the things that you learn by peeking. Scents tell them a lot about their world.
Have you heard ants talk to each other? Probably not. But you can watch them “talk.” Watch them touch antennae when they meet, walk in a line, or swarm to protect their ant hill. They’re “talking” to each other with scents called pheromones (“FARE-uh-moans”).
Most ants say things like, “I’m from your colony,” “Follow me to food,” “All is well,” and “All is not well.” Some ants even say, “I’m dead!” When they die they let out a “death pheromone.” Other ants smell that, pick them up, and drag them out of the nest.
Ants need messages to make their colonies work together. So they’ve been given lots of them. In the world of scents, ants are champs.
When you see ants marching in a line, drag your finger across the line between two ants. This erases the scent trail for a few seconds. It confuses the ants, but it won’t hurt them.
When it comes to smelling scents, flies and beetles are no slouches. A blowfly can smell something rotten up to a mile away. A bluebottle fly can smell a squirrel an hour or two after it dies. That’s long before we think it stinks. A burying beetle can smell a dead mouse up to two miles away just one hour after it dies.
These bugs bury and recycle dead and rotten stuff. Thank God that they can smell that stuff long before we can!
About the Author
Joanne De Jonge is a freelance writer and a former U.S. National Park Ranger. She attends West Valley Christian Fellowship in Phoenix, Ariz.