Hollywood-movie spies always claim they can “smell danger.” But what if that really might be true? Some scientists think fish can smell danger, according to a study published this winter in Current Biology and a health article in The New York Times.
The article describes how a Singapore neuroscientist and his colleague found that when sugar molecules from the outer mucus layer of a zebra fish break into fragments, they prompt alarm responses from other fish. The more molecules that disperse, as if from a cut or wound, the stronger the reaction (fish actually stopped darting and froze in place for an hour or more).
The scientists also documented that those sugar molecules stimulate the olfactory neurons of these fish, meaning they appear to “smell” the injury.
Research colleagues in the United States told The Times the work could help explain fear and panic behaviors in other animals, even humans. Anglers might wonder instead whether tackle manufacturers could use this information to better create scented artificial baits.