Evidence Suggests Moles Can Smell in Stereo (VIDEO)

First Posted: Feb 06, 2013 01:17 PM EST

According to recent studies, the same creatures that are running holes through your garden can smell in stereo. Most mammals, including humans, can see and hear in stereo, but whether they can also smell in stereo has been a long debated subject. Now we know at least one mammal can.

According to the journal Nature Communications, the paper describes this research that was published on Feb. 5., detailing the outcome of the animal's ability to smell in stereo.

 "I came at this as a skeptic. I thought the moles' nostrils were too close together to effectively detect odor gradients," said Kenneth Catania,  the Stevenson Professor of Biological Sciences at Vanderbilt University , who conducted the research.

Findings proved very interesting.

"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," Catania said.

Catania and researchers performed studies for several years before coming to further conclusions.

"This is strikingly similar to a landmark study  of hearing in barn owls performed in 1979 by Eric Knudsen and Mark Konishi  at the California Institute of Technology , who found that blocking one of the owl's ears caused them to misjudge the location of a sound source," Catania said.

By comparing input across its two nostrils, an eastern mole gets directional information from a single sniff, according to Catania. 

A test where Catania inserted small plastic tubes in both of the moles' nostrils and crossed them, so the right nostril was sniffing air on the animal's left and the left nostril was sniffing air on the animal's right was then used. When their nostrils were crossed in this fashion, the animals searched back and forth and frequently could not find the food at all.

The research was supported by National Science Foundation grant number 0844743.

Video courtesy Vanderbilt University.

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