October 31, 2012

Animals learn to fine-tune their sniffs

Animals use their noses to focus their sense of smell, much the same way that humans focus their eyes, new research at the University of Chicago shows.

A research team studying rats found that animals adjust their sense of smell through sniffing techniques that bring scents to receptors in different parts of the nose. The sniffing patterns changed according to what kind of substance the rats were attempting to detect.

The sense of smell is particularly important for many animals, as they need it to detect predators and to search out food. “Dogs, for instance, are quite dependent on their sense of smell,” said study author Leslie Kay, associate professor of psychology and director of the Institute for Mind & Biology at the University of Chicago. “But there are many chemicals in the smells they detect, so detecting the one that might be from a predator or an explosive, for instance, is a complex process.”