This blog is for everyone who uses words.

The ordinary-sized words are for everyone, but the big ones are especially for children.

Thursday, 14 August 2014

How do elephants smell? a rant.

Go ahead, pull on those stakes.
Photo by John Walker

My dog's got no nose.

How does he smell?


There's nothing like a good old joke (and that was nothing like a good old joke).

Still, I thought of it the other day (actually it was 23 July 2014: time flies when you're having fun) when I saw this headline in the online edition of The Telegraph:

African elephants have the best smell in the animal kingdom

I can't say I've ever got that intimately involved with an elephant, but I've been close enough and I can't say I've ever noticed the wafting scent of violets.

But of course that headline was a variation on the my-dog's-got-no-nose joke. African elephants don't have the best smell, but the best sense of smell. Or, if you actually look at what the research says, elephants have the most genes devoted to the sense of smell.

Of course that might not be the same thing at all. I mean, we have the same number of fingers devoted to playing the piano, but I'm no Lubomyr Melnyk.

'African Elephants [says the Telegraph report] have twice the number of smell genes as dogs, and five times more than humans. They have around 2,000 genes alone that are dedicated to scent. Humans in comparison have just under 400 and other primates like chimpanzees, even less.'

FEWER! Not less, fewer! Grrrr...
'Previous studies have revealed that, African elephants can reportedly distinguish between two Kenyan ethnic groups—the Maasai, whose young men demonstrate virility by spearing elephants, and the Kamba, who are agricultural people that pose little threat to elephants through smell.'

I'm rather tickled by the idea of a person's smell proving a threat to an elephant. I suppose if you rubbed yourself all over in lion dung it might prove unnerving. And not only to an elephant.
Anyway, as you must be dying to know where you fall in the sniffer stakes, here are the numbers of genes in a few selected mammals:

Elephant 1948
Rat 1207
Cow 1186
Dog 811
Human 396

The Telegraph article talks rather a lot about the sense of smell being important for distinguishing clean healthy things to eat, but the position of the rat and the dog blows that theory right out of the water.

Doesn't it?

Word To Use Today: gene. This word comes from the German Gen, which is a shortened form of Pangen. The gen bit comes from the Greek genēs, born, and the pan bit is Greek for all.


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