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Top 10 Animals In the World With The Best Sense Of Smell

star nosed mole
Star nosed mole. By Dan MacNeal -, CC BY 4.0,

Have you ever wondered why Sharks are known to be the most intelligent and ruthless predators alive? They are one of the animals with the best sense of smell.


Image via depositphotos.

It’s not only because of their exceptionally pointed teeth that make them dangerous. Their extraordinary sense of smell makes them sense their prey from considerable distances. Thus they can swiftly make their way to a scrumptious meal for the day.

Do you see from this example the critical role the sense of smell plays in the lives of animals? You’ve probably been taking this blessing of nature for granted!

Despite humans being one of the most intelligent creatures on the planet, the animal kingdom should not be overlooked. They have developed incredible skills over thousands of years of growth that have helped their offspring survive. 

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ugliest monkey in the world hitchhikes a boat ride
Portrait of a wild Proboscis monkey or Nasalis larvatus, in the rainforest of island Borneo, Malaysia, close up. Amazing monkey with a big nose.

Thanks to these skills, they can hunt for meals, evade predators, or identify a mate to guarantee the continued existence of their species. The sense of smell is often one of the most intriguing qualities some animals have developed. 

These extraordinary sniffers use their noses to detect danger or smell food from a distance.

If you’re curious to know who these gifted creatures are – that surpass every living being with their unique smelling ability – keep reading with us to learn about the top 10 animals with the best sense of smell. 

But before jumping onto that bandwagon, let us first discuss how these excellent sniffers differ anatomically from other species, granting them a heightened sense of smell.

What Makes These Animals Excellent Sniffers?

Image via depositphotos.

Some animals communicate with one another and defend themselves from danger through their excellent sense of smell. While some creatures use their noses, others use another organ like a nose to sniff or detect information. 

They can utilize a fragrance to look for food, socialize, mark their territory, attract a mate, and detect their predators.

Besides, several other noteworthy factors influence an animal’s ability to smell—for instance, the size of the Olfactory Receptors (ORs) in an animal’s nose. Likewise, the number of OR genes in their DNA determines how well they can use their sense of smell. 

The greater the size and the number of OR genes, the better the sniffer.

Moreover, some of nature’s most gifted species have a Jacobson’s organ that enables them to detect pheromones (hormones that, when secreted, influence the behavior of other species around them). 

In particular, the part of the brain devoted to the sense of smell is generally more prominent in some animals, making them excellent sniffers.

A Look Into The Top 10 Animals With The Best Sense Of Smell

star nosed mole
Star nosed mole. By Dan MacNeal –, CC BY 4.0,

When talking about the sense of smell, every animal differs from the others because some have a keener ability to smell a particular scent, while it may be the opposite for others. The variation is due to the environment and surroundings where the animal lives. 

For instance, some animals have a perfect sense of smell to track food. In contrast, others might be skilled in sniffing the odour of their predators from miles away and hiding in their defense.

So, if you’re keen to learn more about these species devoted to their ability to smell, keep reading with us!

#1 Elephants

Baby elephant in water
It’s important for us to make sure that all animals have their natural habitats preserved. Image via Depositphotos

Elephants are strong contenders on the list of creatures with the best smell sense. For instance, when judging two plates full of food, most of us can quickly determine which meal plate contains more food. 

We’re out of luck if someone turns off the lights, though. Surprisingly, that is not the case with Elephants! 

According to a study, Elephants have the finest and probably the sharpest sense of smell ever recorded in a particular species. They can recognize all kinds of odors in their environment. This is owing to their nearly 2,000 distinct genes dedicated to the sense of smell.

Moreover, Elephants have an excellent sense of smell over a broad range. Consequently, they can locate underground water from up to 12 miles away. 

Previous studies have shown that African Elephants can distinguish between odor molecules with extremely tiny structural variations. Differences that human beings and other species are entirely unable to discern.

Their nostrils, situated at the top of their trunks, are responsible for breathing, sniffing, and collecting water. 

Therefore, they proudly lie among the animals with the best senses of smell. They employ this gift by nature all the time in their daily lives. For example, they frequently use their trunk to learn new scents and detect different odors. 

#2 Sharks

Great White Shark. Image via Canva Pro

Sharks are the most dangerous predatory fish alive that rely on their sense of smell for hunting food. Their smell detection is so important and decisive in their lives that the olfactory bulb occupies two-thirds of this critter’s brain!

Sharks are frightful predators due to their ability to spot the whereabouts of an injured marine species, or even a wounded human, target from miles away.

Sharks detect smells via currents. Therefore, it would take some time for the aroma to hit their nostrils from far away. The ocean’s movement carries smell molecules. Hence, the more the motion, the quicker the smell will travel to them.

So, if you ever expose your flesh in open waters, consider reacting quickly to reach the shore to prevent yourself from becoming a scrumptious meal for a seemingly hungry shark!

These species have nostrils on the sides of their mouth and at the base of their snout. Due to their extraordinary abilities and unique body structure, water flows continuously over their nose, which enables them to hear and have a superb sense of smell.

The extent of their extraordinary sense of smell even allows them to detect a drop of blood in approximately 100 liters of water!

#3 Bears

Asian Black Bear portrait in nature. Asian Black Bear Image via Depositphotos

Bears are renowned for having a keen sense of smell that allows them to locate food from great distances. Their large noses have several thousand smell receptors, 100 times more potent than the human nose.

They will immediately detect the fragrance of the food humans prepare when camping in the woods. Especially if it is food that bears find appetizing.

Besides, it’s common knowledge that polar bears and silvertip grizzlies have exceptionally acute senses of smell. Due to their extraordinary abilities and sharp sense of smell, they can find a dead animal up to 20 miles away.

Grizzlies have the best smelling ability compared to any other animal. This is unsurprising since their olfactory bulb area is five times bigger than an average person’s. Due to this quality, bears are both exciting and terrifying species simultaneously.

#4 Dogs

Image via depositphotos.

Dogs are yet another species with an amazing sense of smell. These creatures are attracted to odors that are unusual, fascinating, and unfamiliar to them. 

A breed of dogs known as the bloodhounds have an acute smelling ability, 300 times stronger when compared to humans. They can locate scents older than two weeks. Likewise, they are known to examine scent trails on terrains longer than 100 miles. 

Due to their exceptional skills, the police frequently use them to investigate crime scenes, locate missing persons, or hunt down perpetrators.

In addition, the Basset Hound subspecies are small dogs having long, droopy ears, which they use to skim the ground and draw scents into their noses. Thanks to the folds on their face and neck, they can hold odors to keep them close while they pursue the trail.

Dogs are trained and accustomed to locating explosives and drugs due to their excellent sense of smell. 

They can also find bodies and locate people based on the scent of their attire. They are mainly accustomed to the scents of humans because they quickly get fond of a smell they are used to sniffing daily.

#5 Snakes

rattlesnake in mail
Rattlesnake via Depositphotos

Snakes fall among those species that have a sharp sense of smell. They rely on their excellent sense of smell, compensating for their weak hearing ability and poor vision.

Despite having a nose to detect scents, their sensitivity to smell is enhanced by a set of organs on the top of their mouths, namely Jacobson’s (vomeronasal) organ. 

They flip open their mouths, flick their tongues out to investigate the aroma in the surrounding area and react accordingly.

They have two prongs on their forked tongues that can attract odor molecules in the atmosphere. Their brains rapidly process this aroma to track the scent of prey quickly. These sharp instincts of snakes make them deadly creatures that the world is terrified of.

Snakes use their excellent sense of smell to be alert to their surroundings to survive, just like sharks do. If you wish to learn more about animals that depend on their sense of smell for survival, click here.

#6 Kiwis

Kiwi eating a leave
Little spotted Kiwi. Kimberley Collins, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Kiwis are rare flightless birds with a peculiar beak that fulfills their specialized task of smelling. Despite having poor vision, they have a keen sense of smell, all thanks to their long beaks. 

Researchers have discovered that their beaks contain sensory holes that allow them to detect prey crawling under the ground. Moreover, the Kiwis have one of the largest olfactory bulbs among other species of birds. A portion of their brain is dedicated explicitly to their sense of smell. 

The unique positioning of the kiwi’s nostrils towards the apex of its bill makes it considerably easier for the bird to detect and locate food. 

Because they cannot fly and their food is found on the ground, their bodies have developed this fantastic smelling mechanism, helping them hunt for food and survive. 

#7 Turkey Vultures

Vulture staring in the distance. Image via Depositphotos.

Turkey vultures are the most abundant of the 23 vulture species globally. This is due to having developed the most intense ability to smell compared to nearly all other bird species.

These huge, hairless, boomerang-winged birds locate their new meal using their sharp sense of smell. They have a firmly established nasal cavity. Additionally, their olfactory bulb is four times larger than that of a black vulture.

Despite having a brain five times smaller, turkey vultures possess twice the amount of Mitral cells compared to black vultures. These cells act as a stand-in for the intensity of their sense of smell, which assists in transmitting smell-related information to the brain.

They can detect dead animals from over a mile away. 

Moreover, they can detect sulfurous chemical substances and diluted streams of gasses in the air chamber several hundred feet above the earth. They habitually circulate their surroundings to discover the origin of the odors they detect. 

#8 Silk Moths

silk moth
Image via unsplash

If you’re curious why moths are included in this list, they are insects with one of the most excellent smelling mechanisms. A male silk moth can detect scents more than 8 miles away. 

The male moths are specially dedicated to detecting the aroma of a female moth, indicative of the animal’s highly developed sense of smell.

Although male silk moths lack a proper nose, they have large, odor-sensitive antennae. These creatures can detect a single pheromone fragrance particle of a female found more than seven miles away. This is all thanks to the special scent receptors in their big, ornate, feathery antennae.

Their rapidly developing sense of smell can detect a particular scent only. It has explicitly evolved to recognize the aroma of female moths. They can sniff female hormone particles in the air at large distances via their antennae. 

On the other hand, the females use the aroma of male moths to evaluate their ability to reproduce.

#9 Rats

Pet rats on a wooden background, depositphotos.

Rats outperform mice in terms of their sense of smell. They have one of the best senses of smell among all mammals. 

Due to their powerful sniffing abilities, these critters have a more diversified and adaptable diet than cats.

Rats have a highly refined sense of smell thanks to their thousands of olfactory receptor genes. The scent receptors are located on a patch of skin on the back of their neck, allowing air to pass by their nose.

The scent molecules in the air move to the vomeronasal organs in a rat, where they are further processed. Moreover, the rats also use these organs to detect pheromones to recognize and differentiate between several members from the same rat species.

For instance, African Giant Pouched Rats are tiny mammals with poor vision. However, they compensate for it with a strong sense of smell. Due to their extraordinary senses, these cat-sized rats have been trained to locate landmines and hidden bombs in war zones. 

Many of them have been put to use in nations like Cambodia. Some have even been taught to examine hospital samples for tuberculosis (TB).

#10 Cows

Image via depositphotos.

These cloven feet herbivores are the finest smellers of all the large domesticated animals. These massive creatures possess 1,100 more olfactory receptor genes than humans have. This makes them the animals with the most potent ability to detect scents. 

Their powerful nose can pick up smells six kilometers away. Moreover, the distinctive ability of cows to sense imminent danger is precious in certain circumstances. Their extraordinary sense of smell is perhaps their best self-defense mechanism.

They can detect odors from miles away and start anticipating their meals before they can hear the tractors pull up to the barns!

Besides, cows not only have an excellent sense of smell but also have the finest hearing ability. Their outstanding smelling ability enables them to comprehend their surroundings and detect upcoming activities.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Happy young Bernese puppy. Playful Adorable Bernese Mountain Dog Portrait in the Swiss Alps. Image by via depositphotos
Which animal has best sense of smell?

The animal that is widely regarded to have the best sense of smell is the African Elephant. They have more smell receptors in their noses than any other animal.

Can bears smell better than dogs?

Both animals have highly developed olfactory senses. The bloodhound, which is often cited as having the best sense of smell among dogs, has about 300 million olfactory receptors. In contrast, it’s estimated that bears have around 2106 million olfactory receptors, suggesting that bears might have a better sense of smell than dogs. However, it’s also important to note that the number of receptors isn’t the only factor that determines how well an animal can smell, and different animals may be better at detecting different types of scents.

What animals have the most smell receptors?

In terms of the number of smell receptors, the African Elephant comes first with around 2000 million olfactory receptors. Other animals with a high number of smell receptors include the bear and the bloodhound.

Which animal has the highest sense?

The animal with the “highest” sense is subjective and depends on what you mean by “highest.” If you’re referring to the strongest sense overall, many would argue that it’s the African Elephant due to its highly developed sense of smell. If you’re referring to the highest visual acuity, that title may go to the eagle, which is known for its exceptional eyesight. If you’re referring to the highest sensitivity to sound, perhaps the greater wax moth would be a candidate, as it has the greatest frequency range of hearing.

Do Elephants smell better than dogs?

Yes, elephants are believed to have a better sense of smell than dogs. This is based on studies that show elephants have more and diverse types of olfactory receptor genes, which are critical for the sense of smell​

The Final Word on Animals with the Best Sense of Smell

Star nosed mole
Their noses are hairless. Image via US National Parks Service, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The world is a fascinating place to discover. Once you discover nature’s best creations, there is no going back. The intricate patterns of life, survival mechanisms, abilities to hunt for food, and evolution over the years, have all astonished humankind.

The ability to rely solely on the sense of smell for survival makes some creatures highly unique. Moreover, their breathing patterns differ significantly from ordinary animals, which depend on their sense of sight and hearing as their best defense. 

However, these creations of nature have been in constant danger due to human activities that lead to the loss of their habitats. 

Therefore, conserving these wonders of nature is a crucial duty of humankind to make the planet a safe haven for every species as they are the ones that contribute to the ecological balance in the world. 

Thank you for reading this article! For more exciting animal lists, continue reading with us; how about the 10 Best Dog Breeds For Beginners?

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