Penguins Follow Their Noses

Can you recognize a family member just by using your sense of smell?  Probably not (unless you have some stinky relatives), but penguins can.  In a study revealed in the September issue of Plos ONE, scientists claim that penguins can tell the difference between relatives and mates by scent.

“The conventional wisdom is birds can’t smell, despite the fact they have an olfactory bulb in their brain,” Jill Mateo, the study’s author, told The Toronto Star.  She went on to shoot down that theory.  “Birds can smell and use smell for family recognition.”

In the study of 22 Humboldt Penguins at Chicago area’s Brookfield Zoo, researchers discovered how penguins avoid inbreeding and can find their mates after long journeys – they can determine which smells are familiar and which aren’t.  The study used preen gland oil (which is located close to a penguin’s tail) to see how well the birds could recognize smell.  The results: penguins can smell really well.  The penguins could distinguish the scent of their mates and spent more time examining non-relative’s scents than familiar ones.

“They can use odours to determine how closely related they are to a potential mate and avoid mating with close kin,” Mateo reports.

So next time you plan on heading to the zoo or aquarium, please make sure to shower first and put on some deodorant.  For the penguin’s sake.

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Jeff Fox

Jeff Fox is a long-time vegetarian and animal lover who enjoys spending time in the great outdoors with his two young sons and dog. An accomplished sports journalist, he can also be found writing at FIGHT! magazine and SLAM magazine.

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