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Animal Scent by Paige and Nick

We're Paige and Nick. A recent trip to the Animal Grossology exhibit at the Science Museum of Minnesota really got us thinking about how animals use scent for a lot of different purposes-to identify each other, find a mate, mark their territory, and defend themselves. So we wondered: What smells good to animals?

What did we do?
The Animal Grossology exhibit didn't include any live critters, so we headed to the Minnesota Zoo. The zookeepers there helped us set up a cool investigation. We placed three different scents-dog pee, fruit scent, and oregano- in different places in the Mountain lion and Mexican wolf habitats. Then we sat back to take some notes. We recorded seven different things the animals might do when they smelled the scents: peeing, rolling, sniffing, barking, scattering, salivating, and "other" behaviors.

What did we find out?
The wolves really had a strong reaction over the dog pee. They peed, sniffed, scratched, and whined. They kept turning around and around almost like they expected to find the dogs in their enclosure! We guessed that this was a territorial and defense response like we saw in the Grossology exhibit. The mountain lions reacted pretty strongly to the animal smell too. Both the wolves and the lions loved the fruity smell. The cats wouldn't leave it alone! They rubbed and rolled in it a lot. They even tried to pull it away from the other cats. That's definitely an attraction smell! But surprisingly, neither animal liked the oregano. Maybe that's because they've never had pizza!

What can you do?
  • Try an animal scent investigation with your pet! Put a little smudge of a food substance into three different cups. Put peanut butter in one cup, mustard in another, and tuna juice in a third. Set the cups upside down on the floor, about 10 feet apart. Let your dog into the room, and see which scent attracts it first. Does it go to the smell it likes the best, or does it go to the strongest smell first?
  • Cats love catnip, but how about other scented plants? Take three cat toys, and rub each one with a different spice from the kitchen. Try things like sage, parsley, thyme, or others. Then put the cat toys out for your cat. What kinds of behaviors does your pet display?
  • Use this zoo investigation as a science fair project idea for your elementary or middle school science fair! Then tell us about it!
more resources
Animal Behavior

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