DOES A FISHER SMELL LIKE?
September 15, 2013
following query was intriguing, though a bit different from most that
I live in a small town in western Massachusetts, pretty much in the
middle of the woods. I'm trying to find a source that will tell me what
animals smell like. I can identify bear, raccoon, and porcupine, and
of course skunks. When I let my cats out in the morning, there is a
lingering musky, garlicky odor on one side of the house. I'm hoping
it's not a fisher [see explanation below], but I don't know what they
smell like. I've not had any luck finding information about identifying
their smell. Why do some animals have a scent?
First, what is a fisher? Fishers are tree-climbing mammals of the northern
states from New England to Washington and far north into Canada. They
are in the same family as skunks and weasels, a group of animals known
for their unpleasant, musky odors. Fishers eat small rodents and snowshoe
hares and are considered one of the most effective predators of porcupines.
Fishers can weigh more than 10 pounds and are fierce, sort of like a
miniature wolverine. Being concerned that a fisher might attack one's
house cats is not unreasonable.
often mention if a particular species produces a distinctive odor, but
I know of no comprehensive guide of any sort that categorizes how to
identify animals or plants by their smell. An olfactory identification
kit of some sort is an excellent idea. Some species have readily recognizable
smells, and being able to recognize the scent of various animals would
be useful to ecologists and wildlife biologists. A scratch-and-sniff
book would be awesome in the field. However, anyone who kept at home
a book with the overpowering scent of skunk or vile-smelling watersnakes
would have few visitors and no roommates.
are said to give off a musky smell when they are disturbed, but so do
lots of other animals. Mink, copperheads, and the little stinkpot musk
turtles found throughout most of the eastern United States all emit
a highly unpleasant odor when frightened, annoyed, or aggravated in
some way. Each is probably distinctive if a comparative smell test could
not all, mammals have a pungent smell to us. Other animals and many
plants also have a scent humans can detect. When first captured, a garter
snake gives off a cloying smell like cheap perfume. A cherry millipede
exudes the pleasing smell of almonds or maraschino cherries when handled.
And of course many plants, such as honeysuckle and tea olive, produce
pleasant aromas whether you pick them up or not.
some plants and animals produce a scent while others do not? The biological
purposes of producing an odor or being able to detect a smell are as
varied as the reasons for plants and animals having different colors.
Smells provide information. Having an olfactory system that is able
to detect airborne molecules can give an animal a survival advantage
in finding a mate or food or in avoiding a predator.
produce a fragrance that promises nectar for insects. The plant also
benefits because the insect serves as a pollinator when it goes to another
flower. Some smells detectable by people appear to have no particular
value to us or to the organism. For example, crushing the leaves of
a hickory tree produces a tart odor, but I see no advantage in my being
able to recognize that scent. But perhaps the smell repels insects that
might otherwise eat the hickory tree leaves.
produce a musky smell when they feel threatened, making it repugnant
to a predator interested in it as prey. Sometimes a musky smell serves
as a hazard warning to a competitor. Fishers are about the size of house
cats, so it could be that the musky smell alongside the house is simply
a warning to the cats not to attack the fisher.
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