Fairly Bear: The Nose Knows   Leave a comment

The average Black Bear (Ursus americanus) really smells. That is, they have a highly sensitive sense of smell (and a unique personal odor, also, particularly after more than half a year of hibernation inside a sealed den. In the same situation, the same could probably be said for any of us). But one of the more unique characteristics of our ursine friends isn’t necessarily his lack of personal hygiene, but his sophisticated sinus, more complex than the nose of most any other animal and able to direct a bear toward his territory; other bears; nutritious food sources; or trouble.

Dogs are generally regarded as having an extreme ability to recognize and follow scents. For centuries used to track other animals; search for lost or stolen items; and trained to identify almost imperceptible odors overlooked by humans, dogs have often been the hero when it comes to following even the slightest fragrance. But the average black bear is seven times more sensitive to smells than the most talented bloodhound, and has 100 times greater smell-ability than a human! The bear sense of smell is so great, it’s been a challenge to accurately measure and estimates range from the ability to clearly smell things one or two miles away; up to 20 miles on a good day. (Which, for a hungry bear, a good day means one with lots of over-ripe fruit or fish that have been left out in the sun too long). It is known that black bear cousins, the Brown bear (Grizzly) can smell the dead body of an elk that is submerged underwater; and another relative, the Polar Bear, can track seals below two feet of ice.

Even though the vendors never stop in his neighborhood, Maxwell always looks forward to Food Truck Friday.

Even though the venders never stop in his neighborhood, Maxwell always looks forward to Food Truck Friday.

So, as humans are fond of surrounding ourselves with odoriferous things (maybe because we apparently can’t smell what’s right in front of our noses); and bears are really, really good at smelling everything for miles around; this sets up the potential for trouble. In some areas of the United States there are more bears (and other wildlife) than most humans realize; in fact in many wilderness areas and national parks bears can sense every visitor even though miles away (so lay off the discount cologne, no one wants to smell that all day). But while bears are great at smelling, they’re not very good at identifying the difference between a smell that might actually be food, and something that might smell good, but can’t be eaten. A dirty barbeque grill; candles; garbage; soap; and even air freshener all smell interesting and potentially (to a bear) could be edible. One whiff of an open bottle of sun tan lotion left sitting in camp, and soon you’ll have a bear trying to see if there’s anything in that bottle good to eat. Which is not only immediately dangerous for the bear (they never pause to read the ‘do not drink’ labels); any bear that learns humans have lots of interesting and maybe edible things just sitting around could become a nuisance bear, seeking out humans and human-things – which leads to the bear being captured and often killed. Just remember, if you can smell it – a bear has already smelled it. And might be on his way, right now, to your tent if you haven’t secured all smellables in bear -resistant containers.

So, with this story about the finely conditioned bear scents, it only makes sense that we start a new feature about bears, as there’s too much information to include in a single message all there is to know about bears; bear behavior; and the presence bears have in many of our daily lives: rather it be a fear, kinship, or the closeness of unseen bears within nearby forests. Anything less could lead to pandamonium. (Which isn’t a bear at all).

Michonne Says: Marmots take long naps in the cold-time too and we never smell as bad as bears. I remember one time….oh, this isn’t about how bears smell, it’s what they smell. I don’t know anything about that.

Posted May 22, 2016 by ECOVIA eco-adventure® in Fairly Bear

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