What's That Smell?

by April Rios, age 14

Often when animals feel threatened in the wild, they will do one of three things: run away from, bite, or attempt to intimidate the threat. However, some animals do things differently. The opossum, vulture, hoatzin, millipede and sea hare are some examples of animals with peculiarly smelly defenses.

The opossum fakes death, sometimes for extensive periods of time. They lay down, still as a statue, with their tongues hanging out, emitting a stench. They move only after the threat has left the area.

Vultures gain a unique defense by feeding on dead decaying animals. When vultures feel threatened, they vomit. Vomiting not only deters most predators, but also allows vultures to make a quick getaway. Any animal that gets too close is at risk of being stung in the face and eyes by the nasty vomit.

For the hoatzin, a bird that smells like fresh cow manure, natural odor keeps the predators away. About 70 cm in length, hoatzins live both in the Amazon Jungle and Orinoco forest. They use their bad smelling odor as a way to defend themselves. They mostly eat leaves, which are digested in a pouch high up in their alimentary canal. It is the only bird known to digest by fermentation, like cows. Fermentation is what causes its odor and which has given it its nickname, the “stink bird.”

With predators like lizards, birds and insects, the millipede curls up in a ball when they feel threatened. Millipedes are arthropods, which are related to crabs and spiders, and have roughly 750 legs. Some can even release a noxious defense that irritates the skin, harms the eyes and leaves a nasty odor on its predator.

Lastly, the toxic sea hare, which might be the most uncanny of them all, secretes a slimy, purple ink, which makes food less appetizing to predators. The active ingredient, opaline, blocks the predator’s smell receptors making it hard for them to smell where the sea hare is.

So next time you’re taking a walk through the woods, think twice before getting too close to animals you don’t know, they might feel threatened and leave you stinky.

[Source: National Geographic]