The animal kingdom is full of appetizing smells. While most of the time animals smell perhaps a bit on the musty or musky side, some animals produce scents that will make your mouth water. Here is a collection of animals who emit smells that will make you think you’re in the kitchen rather than the great outdoors.
Yellow ants = Lemons
Yellow ants are also called citronella ants, thanks to the lemony scent they create whey they spray formic acid in self-defense. Most people notice the scent when they dig in the garden and uncover a colony, or crush worker ants underfoot. So if you’re ever working in the yard and suddenly get a strong whiff of lemons, yet there’s no lemon tree in sight, look for these little yellow guys running around.
Spadefoot toad = Peanut butter
The New Mexico spadefoot toad is one of the species that has a peanut-buttery scent when stressed. (Photo: Sarah Beckwith/Wikipedia)
Several species of spadefoot toad have a scent you’d likely never associate with frogs. They don’t smell fishy or mossy or even noxious. When they’re stressed, they exude a secretion that smells like peanut butter. It might seem alluring at first whiff, but these same secretions are an irritant that causes sneezing and burning eyes in anyone who comes in contact with it. It smells good, but it doesn’t feel good!
Spadefoot toads are the only species of frog with distinct food-like smells. Associate Professor Mike Tyler of the University of Adelaide, who spent a long time cataloging the scents of frogs, told ABC Science, “Most of the tree frogs have odours which resemble either peanuts or cashew nuts. It’s very sweet.” He says another group of frogs have a distinct curry smell. “In fact one is a sweet Bombay curry,” he says. “And there’s another one which is more like one of the north Indian chilli-laden curries.”
If you’re working with tree frogs and get a craving for curry, now you know why.
Binturong = Popcorn
Of all the things that the body fluids of a bearcat could smell like, perhaps the last thing you’d expect would be hot buttered popcorn. But if you walk past a binturong, that’s precisely the scent you’ll catch a whiff of.
The urine of these unusual Southeast Asian mammals smells uncannily like this favorite movie theater treat. When a binturong urinates, it gets it on its feet and tail in order to better spread the scent around, leaving little scented notes for other binturongs. Why exactly does this animal smell so much like popcorn? Because the two actually share the same chemical compound, 2-AP.
“The chemical compound 2-AP is the same substance that gives fresh popcorn its yummy smell, according to the scientists,” reports National Geographic. “When a popcorn kernel is heated, the proteins and sugars create a chemical reaction that in turn forms 2-AP. In the case of the binturong, researchers think the compound may be produced when the animal’s urine reacts with bacteria in the animal’s gut, skin, or fur, or with other microorganisms.”
Peppermint stick insects = Peppermint
A peppermint stick that’s aliiiiiiive! When disturbed, this green stick insect sprays a fine mist that smells strongly of peppermint and irritates whatever predator might be trying to make a meal of it.
They have great aim with this mist, so don’t try to get in close for a sniff. You might get it right in the face! The video shows how skilled they are at using peppermint mist as a defense mechanism.
Copperhead = Cucumber
If you’re close enough to a copperhead to verify this fact, you might be too close. According to the National Zoo, “The copperhead is the cause of many snakebites yearly but they are rarely fatal. Bites occur when people accidentally step on or touch the snake, which tends to be well camouflaged in its surroundings. When touched, the copperhead quickly strikes or remains quiet and tries to crawl away. Sometimes when touched, they emit a musk that smells like cucumbers.”
If cucumbers aren’t that appealing to you, you might prefer the eastern diamondback which, according to Dr. David Steen, smells like Doritos. If you smell Doritos in the middle of the woods, tread carefully.
Delta smelt = Cucumber
This tiny fish doesn’t smell fishy; rather, it smells like cucumbers. (Photo: USFWS /Flickr CC)
Have you ever smelled a smelt? It’s another species that smells like cucumber — and it isn’t nearly as scary as the copperhead so, feel free to sniff away. The only problem is trying to find one. They went from a plentiful species to biologists netting only six during a recent survey.
“Protected by the Endangered Species Act, the delta smelt is a powerful and divisive symbol of the troubles endured by the whole bay-delta ecosystem that is spread across northern and central California. Because smelt live only one year, they immediately reflect the ecological problems created by a massive system of dams, reservoirs, and aqueducts that export water south,” reports National Geographic. “In particular, the last two years of California’s severe drought have contributed to the smelt’s steep decline.”
On a happier note, there’s another species of smelt which also smells like cucumbers, that can be found in the Thames river in England. This species, unlike the Delta smelt, is staging a come-back in the famous — and famously troubled — river. Joe Pecorelli, manager of the London’s Rivers project at the Zoological Society of London, said: “The fact that the smelt, a nationally rare fish, returned to the Thames 20 years ago after more than a hundred years’ absence is a good sign.”
Of course, they still need protection, but still maybe somewhere in the world, these cucumber-scented fish will survive, even if they’re likely lost forever in California.
Kakapo = Honey
The kakapo can be easily tracked based on its distinctive smell. (Photo: Department of Conservation/Wikipedia)
This flightless nocturnal parrot has a strong odor that, unfortunately, makes it easy for introduced predators to find it. Some say it has a sweet, musky smell like honey. However, biologist Jim Briskie of Canterbury University in Christchurch, New Zealand, says they smell like musty violin cases. Well, smell is a subjective thing. But that smell has been one factor in the precipitous decline of the species since the introduction of rats, cats and stoats to their island homes.
The critically endangered kakapo has enough trouble with strong-smelling nests that biologists are considering using a deodorant around nests to better hide chicks and eggs from predators.
Bed bugs = Coriander
The relaxing scent of lavender is a good smell to have in your bedroom, or the calming scent of sandalwood, or perhaps sage. What is not a good smell to have in your bedroom is coriander. If you catch a whiff of this spice, it’s time to call an exterminator.
Bed bugs release an alarm pheromone that to many people smells like coriander. The smells are reminiscent enough of each other that coriander has even been described as smelling like bed bugs! Entomologist Kenneth Haynes of the University of Kentucky notes, “In fact, older literature refers to the bed bug as the coriander bug. I’ve tried to smell the coriander scent in bed bug alarm pheromones and have not been able to make the connection, however.”
If you have a large concentration of bed bugs, the smell moves beyond coriander and into the realm of musty gym shoes. Don’t let coriander start to smell like musty gym shoes.
White admiral butterfly = Wintergreen
This beautiful butterfly species has a wintergreen scent, thanks to the fact that it feeds on the flowers of wintergreen plants. According to Katy Prudic, an entomologist at the University of Arizona, you catch a whiff of the smell when the butterflies poop on you. So, whether or not you want to enjoy the smell of wintergreen in this fashion is, well, entirely up to you.
Honey bees = Bananas
Butterflies aren’t the only bug with an appetizing smell. Honey bees, including Africanized honey bees, release an alarm pheromone that smells like bananas. And if you’re close enough to a bee to smell this, you might be in a spot of trouble. The pheromone attracts other bees to respond to the potential danger. If you’re stung by a honey bee, you definitely need to wash your clothes as the pheromone can stay on clothing.
The banana scent of the alarm pheremone is the last thing you want to smell if you’re around Africanized honey bees. According to an analysis by Dylan Voeller and James Nieh:
Africanized honeybee venom is not more painful or voluminous than normal honeybee venom, its just that many more bees will sting! This is because Africanized honeybees are very sensitive to alarm pheromone (the odors, smelling a bit like banana, which foragers release from their sting gland and glands located in the head when they are alarmed) and produce much more of it than temperate honeybees. The threshold for stinging response in Africanized honeybees is also much lower; only a minor disturbance such as a slight motion, vibration, or odor is needed. A study by Collins (1985) showed Africanized honeybees respond 2.4 times faster to alarm pheromone and about 30 times as fast to a moving target! Once Africanized bees have been stimulated, they are also much more likely to respond in group attacks.
In other words, if you’re near bees and smell bananas, it’s time to put yourself on alert as well.
Crested auklet = Tangerines
Crested auklets give off a strong smell of a favorite citrus fruit, the tangerine.
“You can smell a group of crested auklets before you see them,” Julie Hagelin, a biologist at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania, says. “It’s like someone is peeling a tangerine next to you.” reports The Guardian.
According to the Aquarium of the Pacific, which cares for 14 captive crested auklets, “During the breeding season each of the male-female pair produces a strong tangerine scent in the nape of the ruff feathers of their neck. The scent is attractive to their mate and also signals their readiness to breed. Both partners perform a “ruff-sniff” display in which they press their bill and face into the ruff feathers of their breeding partner. This scent is strong enough to be detected by humans some distance from the breeding colonies.”
What exactly the tangerine scent is telling other auklets when they nuzzle their bills into another’s neck feathers is still a mystery to scientists. Because it is emitted during breeding season, it likely has something to do with the fitness of a mate. But researchers have yet to uncover the secrets of the tangerine scent.
Yellow-spotted millipede = Cherry cola
Millipedes are truly creepy critters, but they also smell kinda nice. Except that the smell comes from a toxin.
The yellow-spotted millipede (Harpaphe haydeniana) is also known as the almond-scented millipede or the cherry millipede because of the smell of the toxic hydrogen cyanide it exudes as a defense. (Hence another common name for the species: the cyanide millipede.) This chemical smells just like almonds or, to some, cherry cola. The secretion is foul tasting and allows it to escape from predators when they wise up and spit the bug out.
This isn’t the only species of millipede known for creating sweet cyanide scents. The North American species Apheloria virginiensis and Narceus americanus also have an eau de cherry cola when feeling threatened. Their toxins are aimed at smaller predators and they’re generally not harmful to humans.
Beaver = Vanilla
Beaver butts smell like vanilla and the anal excretions are used in food flavoring. You might think we’re just pulling your leg but no, it’s true.
From a scent gland called castor sacs, located under the tail, beavers make a molasses-like goo that they use to mark their territory. But this goo smells a lot like vanilla. So much so that it has historically been collected for food flavoring and perfume scents.
As we wrote in Beavers: 8 things to know about nature’s most impressive landscape engineers, “This secretion, called castoreum, is approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and is sometimes used in food flavorings as a substitute for vanilla flavor. It’s sometimes added to cigarettes. Consumption of castoreum is very low, however, in no small part for how it’s obtained.”
You see, the castoreum is “milked” from beavers and is a relatively unpleasant process and thus hardly any is collected for the food industry. It’s a whole lot easier to just collect vanilla bean pods.
Dogs = Fritos
One last snack-food smelling creature might be living in your very own home with you: the humble and much loved domestic dog. The paws of domestic dogs are often noted to smell like Fritos.
“The corn chip odor — which some human noses interpret as more of a popcorn scent — is a byproduct of yeast and bacteria, Dr. Robert J. Silver, a Colorado-based veterinarian, told The Huffington Post. Pseudomonas and proteus are the two types of natural bacteria that make their way from soil or water into the crevices of a paw, and it’s the former that gives your pet that snack food smell.”
We don’t necessarily recommend that you bury your nose in your dog’s paws to take a smell because, well, yeast and bacteria. But if you’re wondering where that hint of corn chip smell is coming from, you might be able to point the finger at Fido. If the smell is particularly strong, or if your dog is licking his feet the way you lick the inside of an empty Fritos bag, then you probably want to take him to the vet and get those pungent paws checked out.