We don’t know how old the planet is but we do know that we have always shared this rock with other creatures: animals, dinosaurs, insects, and so on. Over that span we’ve come to look at animals as inferior to humans, and rightly so in some ways, but these creatures still have the ability to both shock and surprise us. Over the past several decades, thanks to scientific advancement and closer monitoring, we have found that certain animals and insects have an almost supernatural ability to sense both disease and immense natural danger coming in their direction. These senses are undefined and anecdotal, but the trend is strong enough to be worth investigating. Listed below are 10 creatures that we found to most impressively showcase these abilities.
We are going to kick off our list with one important insect: the honey bee. The focus on the decline in honey bees has always been linked to major issues in the natural environment. However, honey bees also have other important uses as well. Apparently honey bees can be used to sniff out explosives. In the current climate of fear and terrorism that many people are living in, honey bees offer an alternate bomb detecting option for security forces around the world. Honey bees can be placed inside of sensors and fed treats as part of a ‘reward conditioning program’. With the amazing sniffers on honeybees, detectors are able to trace the chemical up to a part per trillion ratio. This is pretty amazing for a number of reasons, but we have a hard time believing that bee’s will overtake dogs as the preferred no human bomb sniffing detective.
Cats may sit around and sleep for 3/4ths of the day but that doesn’t mean that the little creatures aren’t without their own special set of skills. We’ve all heard the story of the cat in the terminal hospital ward who would go room to room, comforting patients before they died. While the evidence for disease detection by cats is purely anecdotal, what we can’t debate is their ability to detect earthquakes, at least advanced of humans. Cats have the ability to detect atmospheric changes and this can cause them to freak out in the wake of a giant earthquake. In 2011 a Magnitude 9 earthquake hit Japan and the National Tsing Hua University used it as a chance to study how cats reacted to the quake. Up to six days in advance of the earthquake, cats began to radically change in their behavior: becoming restless, scared and frustrated.
Sharks are creatures from a different time, preserved in a different world than ours that exists just below the surface of our waves. While most of the animals on our list exhibit some forms of stress or fear when natural disasters are incoming, sharks seem to be the opposite. The Dunlap Marine Conservation Program at U of Miami has been tagging tiger sharks and other species of sea creatures for the better part of the last decade. Their research with sharks has revealed that the giant predators tend to flock toward where storms are developing and emerging. Apparently sharks tend to gravitate toward rapid changes in the oceans temperature. Why they do this is still up for debate, but the behavior itself can be really useful in scientific research. In fact sharks can become part of an organic storm detecting model with enough reliable research put into place.
Mice may be considered pests, much like rats, but you’ll soon find that both fuzzy little creatures have a world of application in the discovery of diseases. Mice have powerful senses of smell that can be used to sense avian flu. Researched produced at the Monell Chemical Senses Center out in Philadelphia, USA, found that mice react to a chemical found in disease laden birds. Their ability to sense avian flu exactly has been put up for some debate. Other researchers believe that the mice are actually sense the chemical reaction to the flue that the test birds were releasing in their body. In either event, this research shows that mice have a world of abilities and applications with their high powered sniffers that we hadn’t even thought about.
While cats were able to sense earthquakes in Japan, they weren’t the only fuzzy creature to be able to do it. According to Researcher Yamauchi, the studies of the National Tsing Hua University found that cows were also exhibiting changes in behavior in advance of the earth quake. According to his studies he found that cows lowered their milk production up to a week in advance of the earthquake, and after the quake their milk production stayed decreased for up to another four days. The fact that he was able to tangibly see the rate of milk production drop shows that the cows were able to sense something that changed their behavior in a dramatic way.
African Pouched Rat
Tuberculosis isn’t a disease you hear of often in America but it is increasingly deadly in the Saharan Africa. As of 2012 there wer almost 300 cases of this disease per 100 thousand people. Research done by the World Health Organization discovered that the African Pouched Rat can sense TB and other potential germs in human saliva — and this could go a long way toward helping to diagnose and prevent future cases. According to studies the Pouched Rat can properly detect tuberculosis at an 86% rate — far more effective than the conventional ‘smear test’ performed under a lab microscope. Another plus side for the Pouched Rat: it can smell landmines, so they are also used prevalently in war torn nations — lucky people, not so lucky rats. While we don’t anticipate these rats to become the norm in more modern hospitals, they’re ease of use and cheap price will likely make them popular in clinics that cannot afford all of the top of the line equipment.
Fruit flies are not just the bane of every country kitchen on the planet, they are also important tools of research in the world of science. As it turns out, fruit flies have a penetrating sniffer that can actually be used in order to sniff out cancer cells. Their antennae are covered in receptor neurons that receive a boost of calcium in response to low concentrations of the correct odors. Fruit flies, while annoying in your house, could be huge in the field of medicine. Since the fruit fly responds on a biological level, rather than a behavioral one, they could become consistent detectors of cancer without requiring any special handlers like a dog.
Golden Wing Warblers
The Golden Wing Warbler may not be a household name in any home outside of the bird watching fandom, but they are rapidly becoming the focus of scientific inquiry. Researchers have noted that these songbirds have been avoiding gigantic and devastating storms by detecting infrasound waves well before the storm is close enough to cause damage. A well known example comes back in 2013 when a group of warblers fled their breeding grounds immediately before a storm that would spawn 80 tornados and kill 35 people brushed into territory. The birds then returned after the storm had passed. Scientific researchers are now stepping up their game by fitting these golden winged birds with trackers, allowing them to follow the birds as they navigate in nature. Comparing where they are when big storms hit allows scientists to get an idea as to how effective their storm predicting actually is.
The silvertip grizzly bear has an insane sense of smell and that essentially makes them an apex predator in their environment. Their ability to smell prey and humans, potential threats, can range up to 18 miles. So it should be no surprise to hear that this type of grizzly bear can also sense incoming storms and other potential disasters. Their improved olfactory senses could probably also sniff out cancer, but running a cancer sniffing test with a grizzly bear would be terrifying in and of itself. Fortunately our next animal is ready for the job.
Cancer. The ‘Big C’ in all health related diagnoses. It seems like, at this point anyway, we will always be trying to figure out how to diagnose and cure cancer, if not outright prevent the deadly disease. While scientific advances have almost completely changed the health playing field, compared to even just 25 years ago, we can still fall short at times. So it is absolutely baffling that dogs have shown an almost supernatural ability to sniff out cancer and even diabetes in people who are afflicted. Dogs successfully sniffed out cancer with a 98% accuracy rating in a study done by the American Urological Association, thanks to the 200 million olfactory cells in their noses. Simply put, this is an amazing feat.