Common mole can smell in stereo

Feb. 5, 2013 at 5:32 PM
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NASHVILLE, Feb. 5 (UPI) -- A U.S. scientist says there is evidence of at least one mammal -- the common mole -- that can smell in stereo in order to find its prey.

While most mammals, including humans, can both see and hear in stereo, whether they can also smell in stereo has been at the center of longstanding scientific controversy.

Biology Professor Kenneth Catania of Vanderbilt University conducted a study of the common mole, a creature well known in the eastern United States, Canada and Mexico for its tendency to wreak havoc on lawns and gardens.

"I came at this as a skeptic," he said. "I thought the moles' nostrils were too close together to effectively detect odor gradients."

His research on moles, which are virtually blind and have a poor sense of touch, changed his mind, he said, and opens new areas for potential future research.

"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."

He created a circular arena with food wells spaced around a 180-degree circle with the entrance for the mole located at the center and conducted a number of trials with the food -- pieces of earthworm -- placed randomly in different wells.

"It was amazing. They found the food in less than five seconds and went directly to the right food ... almost every time," Catania said in a Vanderbilt release Tuesday. "They have a hyper-sensitive sense of smell."

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