Vanderbilt neuroscientist Kenneth Catania designed a series of tests which demonstrated that the eastern mole relies of stereo sniffing to locate its prey. Credit: Kenneth Catania
The common mole, Scalopus aquaticus, can find its prey by smelling which direction it’s in, according to a new U.S. study.
Kenneth Catania, a biology professor at Vanderbilt University, tested the moles’ sense of smell using a circular cage with food wells arranged in random places. He placed each mole in the middle of the cage and allowed it to sniff out the food.
“It was amazing,” Catania said in a press release.
“They found the food in less than five seconds, and went directly to the right food well almost every time.”
Catania tested the moles again with one of their nostrils blocked. When the right nostril was blocked, the moles veered to the left when trying to find the food, and it took them longer to find it.
Then he placed small plastic tubes in each of the moles’ nostrils and crossed them so that the right nostril smelled what was on the left and vice versa. This confused the moles so much that they often didn’t find the food at all.
“I came at this as a skeptic. I thought the moles’ nostrils were too close together to effectively detect odor gradients,” Catania said.
“The fact that moles use stereo odor cues to locate food suggests other mammals that rely heavily on their sense of smell, like dogs and pigs, might also have this ability.”
“In humans, this is easier to test because you can ask a blindfolded person to tell you which nostril is being stimulated by odors presented with tubes inserted in the nose.”
However, humans aren’t very good at these tests. We can generally only tell which side a smell is coming from if the smell is strong enough to irritate our noses.
The paper was published in the journal Nature Communications on Feb. 5.
This article was originally published on The Conversation.
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