By Ranger Steve Mueller
Thanksgiving turkey smells stimulate stomach growls. Smell has a major impact for organism nature niche living and survival. Flowering plants release odors that attract pollinators that ensure plant species survive. An unintended byproduct is survival of people depending on plants. If insects did not smell the plant and pollination did not occur, the plant would not produce seeds or fruit people require.
We should offer thanksgiving for the insects that pollinate and provide for the continued production of plants. Insects taste a plant with feet (tarsi) to make sure it is the appropriate species to lay eggs on so offspring have a suitable plant to feed on when eggs hatch.
Mammals depend on senses for survival also, but few have the exacting smell and taste of insects because they are generalist feeders, unlike many insects that require very specific feeding requirements. It is to the benefit for mammals that smells do not need to be in a direct unimpeded line to catch attention. Odor molecules drift around obstacles like trees walls or other barriers to make it to animal noses. We can smell a turkey roasting from a neighboring room because molecules work their way around corners. Our sense of sight and that of wild animals depends on a direct line of light. If there was no odor working their way around corners to the living room, we would not know a turkey was baking in the kitchen based on sight. Light traveling in straight lines does not bend around corners.
Most mammals have a much keener sense of smell than people. Moles smell their way to worms in the darkness underground and do not depend on sight for their next meal. A great many mammals are nocturnal and depend on smell more than sight. Coyotes have a sense of smell tremendously more sensitive than anything we experience. Moisture is important to help with odor reception. Dogs lick their nose and it helps. Licking our nose does not help but having moisture inside our nostrils is important. Smells are more easily noticed in humid weather than in dry air.
When looking for wild raspberries or a dead animal to eat, bears and coyotes have a great advantage over us. Once drawn close by smell, they can use sight to zero in on the food. Molecules from the berries or the smell of a dead animal drift and make it possible for a mammal to work its way toward the greater concentration of molecules until the object is in sight.
People depend on sight to a greater degree than smell. That probably is not the case for many mammals. The use of the two senses together provide increased survival value. Add the sense of sound and it offers another aid to survival success and challenges. I was walking in an aspen forest with thigh high bracken ferns where I could not see or smell a deer bedded ahead of me. It stayed hidden until I was about ten feet from it. It was listening to my approach and rose in front of me like a giant scaring me half to death. It bounded into a thick conifer forest before I recovered from heart stopping startle.
Had I walked to its side, it might have remained quiet, still, hidden, and unnoticed to my sense of smell or sight.
Like insects, our sense of taste requires physical contact. Touching with our hands does not work for our sense of taste. Touching cannot be used to decide we do not want that taste in our mouth. Insects can touch with feet and decide not to place that taste in their mouth. Feeling objects has its own advantages we can use to evaluate food in the grocery or woods based on it how feels.
Smell gives us pleasure and/or disgust. It is important in reproduction for most species. It drives success and failure for many species. For now, simply enjoy the pleasure of Thanksgiving dinner and a full stomach.
Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at firstname.lastname@example.org – Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary, 13010 Northland Dr. Cedar Springs, MI 49319 or call 616-696-1753.