Wednesday, October 6, 2021

Hummingbirds Can Smell Danger Like No Other Bird Species

Wouldn't it be wonderful if all of us could sense danger? Crime would be a thing of the past and safety a naturally assumed reality.

Unfortunately, we lack the sensory perception to smell danger. But a particular bird species can! Hummingbirds are known for their grace and are idolised in popular culture for the same. What you don't know, however, is that Hummingbirds can apparently smell danger too, allowing them to source food more safely. 

Danger-sensing capabilities of hummingbirds

The new study explains how hummingbirds are able to sense danger while hunting for nectar. The study's co-author Erin Wilson Rankin told Treehugger that the importance of smell in the life of an average bird is being explored only now.

To assess the role played by smell in the lives of hummingbirds, scientists observed over 100 hummingbirds in the wild as well as in aviaries. 

They were fed two types of water - one being just regular water with sugar, and the other being sugary water with a touch of a chemical representing smell - akin to an insect. The chemical in question included one produced by honeybees in Europe, another produced by Argentine ants, and formic acid which is created by some formica ants and has the potential to harm birds and mammals. 

Formic acid can cause pain on exposed skin of birds and can also cause irritation in the eyes. The experiments showed what the researchers never thought would happen - the birds preferred the plain sugar water without the scent representing danger. 

The results from the study were published in the journal Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology. Even though the primary goal of this ability is to avoid danger while foraging for food, it serves another purpose. 

What does this superpower do?

The olfactory senses of hummingbirds helps them in detecting decaying dead bodies, which may point at potential danger. The sense of smell for hummingbirds is founded on the mantra of avoidance. 

While they use their excellent vision to find flowers with nectars, the use their sense of smell to avoid certain chemicals that may be lingering on flowers. This is especially important because hummingbirds are unable to detect small ants that may cause harm to them.

 Bharat Sharma, It


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