Skip to Content

Top 10 Animals With The Best Sense Of Smell

Sharing is caring!

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

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

shark best sense of smell

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. 

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

animals with best sense of smell

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?

sniffing dog

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 that functions similarly to 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, there are several other noteworthy factors that 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 present in their DNA determine how well they are able to use their sense of smell. 

The greater the size and 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

animal with best sense of smell

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 odor 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

elephant best sense of smell

Elephants are strong contenders on the list of creatures with the best smell sense. For instance, when judging two plates full of food, the majority 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 are able to 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 are able to 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, is in charge of breathing, sniffing, and collecting water from the surroundings. 

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

shark best sense of smell

Sharks are the most dangerous predatory fish alive that primarily 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. Smell molecules are carried by the ocean’s movement. 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

sniffing bear

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, which are 100 times more potent compared to the human nose.

In fact, they will immediately detect the fragrance of the food being prepared by humans 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 on the planet. This is not surprising since their olfactory bulb area is five times bigger than that of an average person. Due to this quality, bears are both exciting and terrifying species at the same time.

#4 Dogs

sniffing dog

Dogs are yet another species with an exceptional 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 are able to 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.

smelling police dog

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. In fact, they are mainly accustomed to the scents of human beings because they quickly get fond of a smell they are used to sniffing daily.

#5 Snakes

sniffing snake

Snakes fall among those species that have a sharp sense of smell. They rely on their excellent sense of smell, which compensates 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 present 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. To quickly track the scent of prey, their brains rapidly process this aroma. 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 in order 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

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. 

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

#7 Turkey Vultures

turkey vulture

Turkey vultures are the most abundant of the 23 vulture species found across the globe. 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 by employing 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 have the ability to 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 have the habit of circling their surroundings to discover the origin of the odors they detect. 

#8 Silk Moths

silk moth

If you’re curious as to why moths are included in this list, it is because they are insects with one of the most excellent smelling mechanisms. A male silk moth is capable of detecting 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 do have large, odor-sensitive antennae. These creatures are able to 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 is capable of detecting a particular scent only. It has explicitly evolved to recognize the aroma of female moths. Even at large distances, they can sniff out female hormone particles in the air via their antennae. 

The aroma of male moths, on the other hand, is used by the females to evaluate their ability to reproduce.

#9 Rats

sniffing rat

Rats outperform mice in terms of their sense of smell. Actually, 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 warzones. 

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

cow best sense of smell

These cloven feet herbivores are the finest smellers out 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 up to six kilometers away. Moreover, the distinctive ability of cows to sense imminent danger is highly valuable 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 even 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 various upcoming activities.

The Final Word on Animals with the best sense of smell

animals best sense of smell

The world is a fascinating place to discover. Once you begin to 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 to the core.

The ability to rely solely on the sense of smell for survival makes some creatures highly unique. Moreover, their living 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 interesting animal-lists continue reading with us, how about the 10 Best Dog Breeds For Beginners?

Sharing is caring!