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Wednesday, April 11, 2012

How Well Can Bears Smell?

I was kidding in the last post about bears eating rigid PVC. Actually what I think happened is I had the bird feeder stocked with a mix of small seed and large oily sunflower seed. He went there first. Then, roaming around, he smelled the same sunflower seed in the vicinity of the storage shed. The storage shed has two separated sections with their own locked entrance door. He knew which one had the sunflower seed that was stored in a small, closed galvanized garbage can. Yes... he could smell through 5/8" wood and then through the galvanized garbage can. He karate chopped through the door and the box of PVC was between the door and the garbage can. The box was tossed outside in short order, and into the garbage can of sunflower seeds he went.  So yesterday I took the remaining seed way out into the woods for all to enjoy. No more sunflower seed. No more bird feeders. Yet, sometime during the day today he paid a return visit. Got into the same shed again but left quickly and didn't make too much of a mess.

I found it hard to believe he could smell that well.  Several friends I spoke to convinced me bears have an excellent sense of smell. They certainly do. From the American Bear Assoociation website: 

Is it true that a bear's sense of smell is 7 times greater than that of a bloodhound? 

Indeed it is. There is perhaps no other animal with a keener sense of smell. Bears rely on their sense of smell to locate mates, detect and avoid danger in the form of other bears and humans, identify cubs, and FIND FOOD. Although the region of the brain devoted to the sense of smell is average in size, the area of nasal mucous membrane in a bear's head is one hundred times larger than in a human's. This gives a bear a sense of smell that is 7 times greater than a bloodhound's. In addition, they have an organ called a Jacobson's organ, in the roof of the mouth, that further enhances their sense of smell.


Here are some accounts of how truly well a bear can smell:


"A black bear in California was once seen to travel upwind three miles in a straight line to reach the carcass of a dead deer."


". . . male polar bears march in a straight line, over the tops of pressure ridges of uplifted ice . . . up to 40 miles to reach a prey animal they have detected."


"A bear has been known to detect a human scent more than fourteen hours after the person passed along the trail."


"A male can detect which way a breeding female is traveling just by sniffing her tracks."

Quotes are from The Great Bear Almanac by Gary Brown



Bears use this keen sense of smell to communicate with each other. By leaving their scent on trees and vegetation, they are broadcasting their presence to other bears that may be in the area.

This keen sense of smell is why you should always be bear aware when living or recreating in bear country. For suggestions on living in bear country, click here. For tips when camping or hiking in bear country, click here.

Black Bear Destroying a Bird Feeder

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