6 Animal Noses That Outsniff Dogs

6 Animal Noses That Outsniff Dogs

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[INTRO ♪] When we need a little help sniffing something
out, we usually turn to our furry best friends. And there’s good reason for that: dogs are
relatively easy to train, and their sense of smell is as much as 100,000
times more acute than ours. And they’re cuter. We have machines, sure, but electronic odor
detectors tend to struggle when the chemical of interest
is in low concentrations in a complex mixture of molecules, like, I
don’t know, the air. So we’ve taught dogs how to sniff out everything from sewage leaks to artwork-destroying
insects. But they’re not the only critters whose
sense of smell can be put to good use. There are other champion sniffers that we
could use to detect everything from disaster survivors
to gourmet fungi. Here are six of the animal kingdom’s most
useful noses. Truffles—the edible fungi that grow underground, and
not the chocolates— are a gourmet food that can fetch extremely
high prices. Since they’re very hard to cultivate, they’re
usually gathered from the wild. But finding fungi growing up to a meter underground
is pretty challenging. Luckily, pigs are here to help us sniff them
out, and they have for centuries. Pigs have over a thousand olfactory receptor
genes in their genomes— that’s more than dogs, or us, so they’re
able to detect a wider variety of smells. And their olfactory bulb— the part of their brains that processes the
information from smelling— make up about 7% of their brain. Your bulb is a mere 0.01% of your brain. But the real reason we use them to hunt truffles is that they seem to have a weird natural
affinity for them. In the 1980s, researchers discovered that
truffles contain large amounts of a musky steroid that boars secrete in their
saliva to put their sows… in the mood. So, many think that’s what attracts the
pigs. But a study in 1990 suggested another compound— dimethyl sulfide—was the odor instead. And there hasn’t been much follow up, so
the jury is still out. Either way, pigs’ natural instinct to root
around in the dirt in search of food probably enhances their
truffle-finding skills. Though, apparently, the pigs are notorious
for snacking on the goods they find, and it’s no picnic trying to wrestle a $1000
fungus from a 200-kilogram hog. Which is probably why nowadays, they’re losing their truffle hunting jobs
to trained dogs. I guess natural talent just doesn’t trump
canine ease of use. Detecting sick animals could help predict
and track outbreaks of diseases like bird flu that can
jump from other species to our own. But classic methods for detection, like blood
tests, require a lot of time and money for sample
collection and analysis. And why do that, when there’s a living disease
detector right under our noses? Enter: Mice. Like dogs and pigs, rodents have far more
functioning genes for odor reception than we do, so they’re
able to distinguish between scents that we can’t
even smell. And, relative to the size of their brains, their olfactory bulb is 200 times bigger than
ours, and 5 times bigger than dogs’. That, and their ease of breeding and care, makes them ideal for use as biosensors: living
chemical detectors. In a 2013 study, researchers found that mice
could sniff the difference between the poop from healthy mallard ducks and poop from ones infected with avian influenza. The six trained mice managed to pick out the
right poop about 80% of the time, though that was under lab conditions— it remains to be seen if they fare as well
in the field. But that hasn’t stopped New York scientists
from trying to take the whole mouse biosensor idea to the next
level using genetic engineering. In 2016, they showed their “MouSensor” mice, which are engineered with additional olfactory
receptor genes, can be up to one hundred times better than
regular lab mice at detecting particular smells—and those
were just the pilot versions. With results like that, it might not be long before dogs start losing ground to super sniffing
genetically modified mice. Landmines left behind after conflicts kill
thousands of people every year, but finding and removing them is a dangerous
and difficult task. It’s much safer for the humans involved
if something smaller and lighter can go through and flag where all the bombs
are first. People have used dogs for this, but they’re
expensive to train, and hard to transport around the world. So, a Belgian nonprofit enlists local noses
instead— those of Gambian pouched rats. These so-called rats—which are actually
members of a different rodent family—are huge rodents
native to central Africa. They can be 75 centimeters from nose to tail
and weigh over a kilogram. Their vision is terrible, but they make up
for it with an amazing sense of smell, which they use to communicate with each other
over long distances. And that means their noses have no trouble
detecting small amounts of explosives like TNT, even
if said explosives are buried 20 centimeters below ground in
a land mine. They’re also light enough to walk across
minefields safely, and they’re fast— a single rat can check 200 square meters in
20 minutes, which would take a person days to do. The nonprofit calls their trained rodents
“HeroRATS”—and it’s easy to see why. Gambian pouched rats helped clear over 13,000
mines in Tanzania, Mozambique, Angola, and Cambodia between 1997
and 2015. But the rats do require a rigorous training
protocol that takes the first nine months of their
eight-year lives. At least they look super cute in their special
little harnesses! After a disaster like an earthquake, finding victims trapped in debris can be a
slow, challenging process. Search and rescue dogs and their powerful
sniffers are a big help. But often, a smaller, more agile critter would
be even better. Something like … a search and rescue cat! Okay, cats aren’t actually being trained
to do this yet, but experts argued in a 2017 paper that maybe
they should be. That’s because, although we don’t know
as much about their sense of smell as other animals, what we do know suggests
they’ve got great noses. For example, they have 30 variants of the
V1R odor receptor gene— dogs only have nine, and we only have two. That suggests that they may be even better
than dogs at discriminating between some scents. The scientists behind the 2017 review argue
that this means they could take over some of the scent-related jobs that
dogs are trained to do now. And since cats are better climbers and can
squeeze into smaller spaces, they might be better suited to searching for
trapped people than man’s best friends. The problem is training them, but the researchers
believe it’s possible, with proper socialization and the right rewards
to motivate them. I mean, if we can train pigs and mice and
giant rats, how hard could cats be? Though, that saying about herding cats does
exist for a reason. So whether cats will live up to their heroic
potential remains to be seen. When you’re sick, you actually smell a little weird. No offense. The illness and your immunological reaction
to it alter the concentrations of some molecules
in your bodily fluids. I mean, you might not smell the difference,
but bees can. Though they don’t have noses in the way
we think of them, honey bees do have an amazing sense of smell. That’s what allows them to sniff their way
to food even if it’s miles away. And scents play incredibly important roles
in bee social lives. Which is why, in their genomes, they have
163 functional odorant receptor genes—the smelling genes
unique to insects. Fruit flies, for comparison, which also have
to sniff out their meals, have less than half that number. These diverse odor receptors allow bees to
smell the difference between subtly different varieties of the
same plant. And it only takes a single encounter with
an odor associated with a reward, like nectar, for a bee to be able to identify
the smell again. That makes it really easy to teach bees to
detect a variety of chemicals, including disease-specific odors on our breath. A designer in the UK even invented a glass
apparatus that allows for diagnosis by bee. The bees have to be trained on the smell of
the disease in question, but if a person with that condition breathes
into the device, the trained bees swarm towards their breath. If they’re not sick with the target illness,
the bees don’t react. It’s just a prototype, but it did work at
least once, identifying a confirmed case of diabetes. And sure, dogs can perform a similar trick,
but the bees are a lot easier to train. It only takes about 10 minutes of training
to get 98% accuracy from the bees, whereas dogs take weeks and are only right
about 71% of the time. So making honey, pollinating plants, and now
diagnosing diabetes— is there anything bees can’t do? But bees aren’t the only insects with smelling superpowers. Wasps can get in on the act, too. A tiny parasitic wasp called Microplitis croceipes lays its eggs in the bodies of living caterpillars. And it behaves differently when it smells
its host as opposed to its food, which means scientists can train a single
wasp to identify two different smells! On the downside, the wasps only live a few
weeks, and they only remember the scents they’ve
been trained on for a couple days. But on the upside, they’re cheap to raise, and are reportedly even easier to train than
bees. And according to researchers that have worked
with them, they can detect “almost anything”—they’ve
trained wasps on explosives, food toxins, and even the pheromones of bed bugs. In trials, the wasps were at least ten times
as sensitive to the test chemicals as the best electronic
sensors. The researchers even invented a device for harnessing the wasps’ super sniffing
ability. They call it the “Wasp Hound”, because
it’s kind of like having a trained bloodhound… except it’s a container
of wasps, that wiggle instead of howl. The wasps are held in a cartridge, which is
exposed to air samples. Based on their movements, the researchers
can tell whether the chemical they’ve been trained
on is present in the sample or not. Sniffer wasps could be used for jobs considered too dangerous for us or our loyal companions
to perform. But the startup hoping to market the wasps’
mad sniffing skillz hasn’t been too successful, so it’s unclear
if wasps will replace the hounds they’re named after
anytime soon. But even if some of these examples are still
conceptual, it’s pretty wild that all sorts of animals— from those with backbones and four legs, to
those with stingers and six legs— have these amazingly useful olfactory abilities. Whether it’s ridding the world of dangerous
explosives left over after wars, or finding gourmet fungus growing underground, these six animals follow their noses to do
some incredible things. If there’s a scent we need to track down that our human schnozzes can’t detect, there’s probably a critter out there that
can help us sniff it out. Thanks for watching this episode of SciShow. While our noses aren’t quite as keen as
the animals we just talked about, they’re not as bad at sniffing as you might
think. If you want to learn more about that, you can check out our episode about human smelling
abilities. [OUTRO ♪]

100 thoughts on “6 Animal Noses That Outsniff Dogs

  • Kitty Wilcox Post author

    The herorats are being trained to detect tuberculosis too!!

  • Anime Tiddies Post author

    You lost me at “funji”

  • larry Spiller Post author

    I'm pretty sure I can smell sick people. At least most the time. I dont think I have a particularly good sense of smell but I do notice it.

  • LapTopGladiator Post author

    Cricetomys gambianus

  • Budo Ka Post author

    A Belgian none profit what?!! Aaaggh Americans!! Stop just dropping words for no explicable reason.

  • Kaela Olsen Post author

    Forget about the Bee's KNEES, what about the Bee's NOSE!!

  • James Scheibel Post author

    this task is to dangerous for bees, get the wasps. 🙂

  • TheTaintedWisdom Post author

    5:50 – So… much like an EA game without microtransactions and/or DLC it's a purely fantasy-based hypothetical scenario? Gotcha.

  • Mikey D Post author

    Yeah but cats are assholes they don’t care 🤷🏻‍♂️

  • TheDroidBay Post author

    I have the opposite skill. I produce extremely strong smells. Normally after having dairy products.

  • Rachel Woodcraft Post author

    This reminds me of the time I Noticed my ex's breath smelled differently and I asked him to see a doctor. Turns out he had pancreatitis. Then another time I could smell (but not hear) a person eating a green apple at the back of a crowded bus…

  • tinatt h Post author

    Stefan ♡

  • San dro Post author

    I think Grizzly bear has the single strongest sense of smell out of all animals. Note I stated strength of smell and not how wide their sense is. Wolverine also has crazy sense smell that sure beats the dog.

  • Sophie Robinson Post author

    I could always tell when my youngest daughter was getting sick. Her breath would smell like cough syrup.

  • Reddeeno Post author

    Fun-guy, it's pronounced fun-guy

  • Joshua Elie Blachier Post author

    SciShow: "We can train pigs, and mice and giant rats, how hard could cats be?"
    Me: "Uh, aren't you the same show that made it clear cats domesticated themselves and tricked us into adopting them?"

  • Nobody Post author

    I just came for the cat

  • CMDonovann Post author

    the idea that cats are completely untrainable is kinda goofy tbh. some of them can be stubborn, but others are super sociable and very receptive to learning in exchange for treats :3 i think it would be awesome if cats were trained to help find disaster victims! they would be awesome at it ^_^

  • Ferintosh Farms Photography Post author

    Plus you could make the mice glow in the dark so they'd be easy to find

  • Noriel Sylvire Post author

    I always thought that truffles were actualy pig shite

  • Fox D Post author

    Pigs have evolved the ability to sniff out truffles as an evolutionary adaptation to avoid getting eaten by the people who use them to find truffles.

  • Addison Kwong Post author

    What if u fart next to them

  • CP Post author

    I wish you wouldn't move your hands so much. I love the content of your videos but the dramatic excessively excited hand waving just distracts me ._.

  • Angie Beattie Post author

    As soon as you said fungi I instantly said pigs

  • BabakoSen Post author

    Bengal cats are expensive as hell, but apparently they're more responsive than most other breeds to training.

  • Terven James Post author

    Wait there are many types of dogs so you're telling me any pig can out sniff all known dog spices !!!!???

  • Oni Post author

    "There's a living disease detector right under OUR noses!"

    Our mouths?

    "Enter mice"


  • isabel necessary Post author

    If you say fungus not funjus why do you say funji instead of fungi

  • Bruce Norman Smith Post author

    but cats don't care, too bad 😂

  • e8root Post author

    Cat can help you but it just wont ^_^

  • Cypresssina Post author

    This reminds me of that meme that says 🐱 can smell… Green stuff… as well as 🐶, they just aren't narcs.

  • Wyatt Brooks Post author

    Is it weird that I can smell if people are sick or stressed?

  • Lily Post author

    Don't kiwis have a surprisingly good sense of smell compared to other birds? Are they this level of good or are they just better than birds who don't have a good sense of smell?

  • Lawrence Fortune Post author

    I wonder if bees can be trained to detect liars.

  • edepillim Post author

    My cat definitely has a super sense of smell …….open a tin of salmon and no matter where she is, upstairs, outside etc , she suddenly appears as if by magic squawking for attention. Hero rats can also detect TB and some dogs can smell cancer.

  • Christine Marshall Post author

    what is the [406] on his shirt?

  • Stephanie Vite Post author

    There's a woman who is able to detect parkensons by smell. She had 100% accuracy when tested. In testing she had one "incorrect" that was later amended to "correct" when that person was later diagnosed with parkensons. She's able to pick up on it before symptoms appear, so they were studying how it affects our smell to try to create early detection that didn't involve her shoving her face into a dirty shirt.

  • Josh Guyette Post author

    Just give cats the dog's "man's best friend" genes. 🙂

  • M H S Post author

    Cat's will find you, and watch you die, slowly and in agony

  • Ted Phillips Post author

    I'm just waiting for the first lawsuit when a genetically modified cat eats a genetically modified rat…..

  • QueenofSilence101 Post author

    I would absolutely love to see more diverse animals trained for service purposes.
    Dogs are nice, but it would be nice to see a change.

  • Meghan Ushman Post author

    Humans have been able to smell certain diseases like diabetic ketoacidosis and strep infections. I’d rather stick with lab tests.

  • Zam Mthethwa Post author

    Is it really funji?

  • Lyckl _ Post author

    Huh can i be your furry freinds xd

  • Megan Kidwell Post author

    I'd love to see someone trying to train a cat, that sounds funny

  • TC Safavi Post author

    Aww, they featured Apopo's Hero Rats! That's one of my favourite charities.

  • Goo Lagoon Post author

    So we genetically engineered mice to be able to sniff out diseases in bird poop… and people are flipping out just because they performed surgery on a grape smh.

  • ALPHA ARX Post author

    How the he'll can a cat smell better than a dog a cat can't smell bombs from miles away

  • Brionyx Post author

    I taught my cat to sit. Have faith in the kitties

  • Myconix Post author


  • jacky zhu Post author

    Rodents have appeared 2 times
    Giant rats are immune to local diseases.
    Bees and wasps are related

  • Chris Miles Post author

    No training of cats required … as long as the trapped person doesn’t want the cat on their lap.

  • Jo Hawthorne Post author

    The gambian pouch rats also sniff out tuberculosis (:

  • bleh Post author

    And what about if they use pigs but with someting covering their mouths? Easy

  • Candyce Monroe Post author

    Sad that I enjoyed your video, but while I watch I had to Google 406. Montana?

  • Logan Skiwyse Post author

    It's a myth that you cannot train a cat. They are just as trainable as a dog is. That's why there are many cat performance shows out there. However having said that, as anyone that runs one of those shows can tell you, sometimes the cat just wants to be a cat. Basically if they're not in the mood nothing you do is going to motivate them. But properly socialized and trained from a young age they do respond just as well as dogs most of the time.

    every animal regardless of species has its own personality. as such some dogs and some cats respond better to training than others. but in my experience with animals overall the age and degree of socialization make the majority of difference in the trainability of the animal.

  • mradhayuda1 Post author

    Cat cant find food in his face

  • TaiChiKnees Post author

    The Bee Detector will work great for everyone except Nicolas Cage, who will freak the heck out.

  • Stephen Hill Post author

    Now we just need to genetically modify cats to care about anything other than themselves.

  • Robert G Post author

    They want to train cats…Hahahahahahahahaha!

  • Yaume Lepire Post author

    There is at least one thing bees absolutely can not do: Not freaking me out.

  • NWPaul72 Post author

    #4: Why are you referring to someone who believes a cat can be trained as an "expert"? Credibility jeopardy right there.

  • June H Post author

    I clicked on this video because of the cat picture

  • EnderZ13 Post author

    Cats are antiheros at best. At worst, they will find the victim and then sit there, staring baleful into their souls as they expire.

  • Vi Holiday Post author

    My Wegie alway trys to get onto the counter if theres raw meat, the other two cats can't smell it so i have to always keep an eye on my 12 pound cat and try not to give him human food. It's a struggle

  • Craig Stuckey Post author


  • Eduardo Gouvea Post author

    "Challange accepted"-cats

  • ZOZA Post author

    Ya forgot the bears.

  • La Bin Post author

    Yeah, train the cats. They will totally find trapped people. Just to see them DIE xD

  • Lysergic Casserole Post author

    Funji? I bet this guy says Gif like Jif

  • Mika Post author

    Gambian pouched rats actually sniff out tuberculosis as well, much more accurately and quicker than lab tests 🙂

  • James the cat Post author

    My cat is a cocaine dealer now i know where she gets it from

  • Valerie Pallaoro Post author

    I see Stefan on the thumbnail, I jump on board – for the t-shirts. This one's hilarious!!! I'd watch Stefan tshirt show video – someone make that?!!!

  • Yu Tub Post author

    This proves it. Rats are better and more useful than some humans. At least they don't place landmines they even help us cleaning up the mess we created.

  • colahu111 Post author

    I think training cats mostly depends on the cat and honestly wether or not it liked treats. My car knows a few tricks and would know even more if I wasn’t so lazy. In fact he’s more willing to work for treats than my dog!

  • depressed soul Post author

    Training cats? I better train my nose😂😂

  • Jordan Martinez Post author

    He said "They genetically engineered mice." I'm wondering why I can't get my genes engineered at all.

  • SunriseLAW Post author

    Bees detect diabetes and say "you ate too much honey"

  • Sean Draco Post author

    You need to breed cats like mine… He actually comes and responds to words. Still long way from a 🐕 they live to be best buds.

  • Heather Villalta Post author

    Cats are better than dogs.

  • 9elypses Post author

    Funny enough some people can smell illnesses on your breath. I can smell when someone has diabetes. It smells like acetone but I can only tell when they're already really bad which makes sense since my nose isnt as good as a dog's who could smell and catch the disease way earlier.

  • Fuck you I’m eating Post author

    How about the monitor lizard? Supposedly komodo dragons can smell a carcass from miles away.

  • X Willy Post author

    Yeah, our sense of smell is superior to dogs, but stay with the dogs… we're not interested.

  • Gary Whites Post author

    What does 406 on your shirt mean

  • zakosist Post author

    6:11 I have noticed that myself actually, both on myself and other people. I think people can smell when someone is sick (if theyre close up) but rarely really pay attention

  • Anthony Hewitt Post author

    People haven't used pigs to sniff truffles since the 90s. Dogs dominate the trade

  • Ludwigia pilosa Post author

    Instead of cats, why not weiner dogs? Those would be small enough.

  • Tweech O Post author

    "Fun-jai" really? It's not Funjus.

  • Angelina Albano Post author

    Yeah, I heard about pigs sniffing out things that they are trained to especially truffles. That's crazy that you brought that up because as soon as 000

  • Nihilistic Atheist Post author

    Stop pronouncing “fungi” with a soft ‘G’. It’s pronounced with a hard ‘G’.


  • Nihilistic Atheist Post author

    In all fairness, 80% is still wrong 1 out of every 5 times. That’s not great.

  • Greg Gory Post author

    pig vs human, price truffles, that's a funny image!

  • Richard East Post author

    The title should have added 'and how this benefits humans'.

  • Silas Lorde Post author

    You've got diabetes and you're just walking around when a swarm of bees and wasps fly into your mouth and up your nose

  • Shaun Gordon Post author

    Sorry, I can't get past the pronunciation of 'fungi'

  • Bo Reed Post author

    My brorther thought that could smell his suger wen it was higher you should do a show on bees and diea bee tees

  • D M Post author

    the problem with pursuing the best solution is that most people don't care most people are ok with good enough.

  • Papa Vader Post author

    “Is there anything anything bees can’t do?”

    Uh, yeah.


  • Jarred Cagney Post author

    Say it with me "fun guy, fun guy"

  • Ralph Stewart Post author

    There is no way in hell that I would ever walk behind a rat in a mine field.
    Pay back time

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