Animal Smelliness: Swine and Stinky Chicks

The following is an article from The Annals of Improbable Research, now in all-pdf form. Get a subscription now for only $25 a year!

Research about animal smells
compiled by Stephen Drew, Improbable Research staff

Swine Odors 1
“The Effect of Environmental Odors Emanating from Commercial Swine Operations on the Mood of Nearby Residents,” Susan S. Schiffman, Elizabeth A. Saltely Miller, Mark S. Suggs, and Brevick G. Graham, Brain Research Bulletin, vol. 37, 1995, pp. 369–375. The authors report that:

Persons living near the intensive swine operations who experienced the odors reported significantly more tension, more depression, more anger, less vigor, more fatigue, and more confusion than control subjects [who were not exposed].

Swine Odors 2
“Symptomatic Effects of Exposure to Diluted Air Sampled from a Swine Confinement Atmosphere on Healthy Human Subjects,” Susan S. Schiffman, Clare E. Studwell, Lawrence R. Landerman, Katherine Berman, and John S. Sundy, Environmental Health Perspectives, vol. 113, no. 5, May 2005, pp. 67-76. (Thanks to Michele Harmon for bringing this to our attention.) The authors report that:

Aerial emissions from a swine house at North Carolina State University’s field laboratory were delivered to an environmental exposure chamber. ... subjects were 4.1 times more likely to report headaches, 6.1 times more likely to report eye irritation, and 7.8 times more likely to report nausea in the swine air (experimental) condition.

Investigation of the Stinky Whale Condition
“Summary of Finding on the Investigation of the Stinky Whale Condition in Eastern North Pacific Gray Whales,” T. Rowles and V. Ilyashenko, IWC/59/CC, 15, 2007.

Attractiveness of Smelliness in Zoos
“An Investigation into the Determining Factors of Zoo Visitor Attendances in UK Zoos,” Andrew William Whitworth, PLoS ONE, vol. 7, no. 1, 2012, e29839. The author, at the University of Glasgow, UK, reports:

Results — Animal popularity — The top five characteristics that were listed as ‘liked’ by the majority of the sample population were ‘active’, ‘easy to see’, ‘intelligent’, ‘bright colours’ and ‘the ability to hold objects’. The bottom five characteristics that were listed as ‘dislike’ by many of the sample population were ‘smelly’, ‘slimy’, ‘bites or stings’, ‘bald/little hair’ and ‘venomous/poisonous’.

Detail from the study “An Investigation into the Determining Factors of Zoo Visitor Attendances in UK Zoos.”

The Benefit From a Stinky Foreign Chick
“From Parasitism to Mutualism: Unexpected Interactions Between a Cuckoo and its Host,” Daniela Canestrari, Diana Bolopo, Ted C.J. Turlings, Gregory Röder, José M. Marcos, and Vittorio Baglione, Science, vol. 343, no. 6177, 2014, pp. 1350-1352. The authors, at University of Oviedo, Spain; University of Valladolid, Vallodolid, Spain; and the University of Neuchâtel, Switzerland, report:

Avian brood parasites lay eggs in the nests of other birds, which raise the unrelated chicks and typically suffer partial or complete loss of their own brood. However, carrion crows Corvus corone corone can benefit from parasitism by the great spotted cuckoo Clamator glandarius. Parasitized nests have lower rates of predation-induced failure due to production of a repellent secretion by cuckoo chicks...

The most plausible mechanism driving the reduction of failure in nests with cuckoos is predator repellence by a malodorous cloacal secretion that parasitic chicks void when grabbed. This secretion is only produced by cuckoo nestlings (0 of 23 captured adults showed it) and can be copious.


This article is republished with permission from the March-April 2016 issue of the Annals of Improbable Research. You can download or purchase back issues of the magazine, or subscribe to receive future issues. Or get a subscription for someone as a gift!

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