A group of Japanese researchers have discovered signs that soft-shelled turtles have an extremely keen sense of smell that may beat that of our traditional smelling champions, the dogs. The turtles that were part of the groups’ study have shown a distinct ability to perceive subtle differences in odors, better than those by dogs.
The international group of researchers includes scientists from the Center for Developmental Biology (CDB), a branch of leading natural science group Riken, which is based in Kobe, Japan. The group had just recently published their findings in the online version of scientific journal Nature Genetics. The findings all pointed to soft-shelled turtles having more variety in their smell receptors. That means that their ability to sense subtle olfactory differences may be one of the most advanced among vertebrates, according to findings of the group.
These smell receptors on the surface of cells on the inside the nose can detect substances whose smell is linked to the receptors’ configurations. These receptors then send this data to the brain, which can then decide what it is that an animal smells. To this point, the greater the variety of receptors on cells of the nose, the wider the variety of smells that can be perceived. The latest finding by the CDB group discovered that the turtles have 1,137 olfactory receptor genes. One can compare this number to rats, which have 1,207 genes and are very sensitive to smell, or 811 for dogs and 396 for humans.
“Dogs may be more sensitive to smell than soft-shelled turtles, as their noses have a greater surface area. But these turtles may have an advantage over dogs when it comes to sniffing out subtle differences in scents,” CDB researcher Naoki Irie said. Kazushige Tohara, a professor at the University of Tokyo who specializes in the sense of smell, also said that an animal’s diet may come into play in its ability to utilize its sense of smell. “Different animals have different senses of smell as they live in different environments. The eating habits of soft-shelled turtles may be a factor behind the presence of such a wide variety of smell receptors,” Tohara said. So does this mean that we’ll start seeing more turtles being used by the authorities for police work? Signs still point to “probably not”, which is a total pity, don’t you think?