Could Rats Be the Next Sniffing Dogs?

By Melissa Lafsky
Apr 10, 2008 8:42 PMNov 5, 2019 8:43 AM


Sign up for our email newsletter for the latest science news

Last week, we discussed how the science of smells is being used by law enforcement officials, who rely on the latest dog training techniques and technology to sniff out criminal activity. Now a new study shows that the animals with the fastest sense of smell known to humans—the masters of quickdraw in the great olfactory shoot-out—are none other than rats. The intrepid rodents can differentiate between odors in just 140 milliseconds—no doubt a trait that has long come in handy for finding open garbage cans. Prior research has shown that rats take as little as 50 milliseconds to determine the direction of a smell, while humans need a whopping 700 milliseconds to process one sniff. Rats have been trained and put to work by police departments on tasks such as sniffing out landmines in Colombia (a job that can be too dangerous for dogs, whose greater mass can more easily trigger explosions). And researchers are looking for even more ways to put these lightning fast noses to good (for us, anyway) use—though somehow it's hard to envision a team of leashed rats waiting for you at the customs gate.

1 free article left
Want More? Get unlimited access for as low as $1.99/month

Already a subscriber?

Register or Log In

1 free articleSubscribe
Discover Magazine Logo
Want more?

Keep reading for as low as $1.99!


Already a subscriber?

Register or Log In

More From Discover
Recommendations From Our Store
Shop Now
Stay Curious
Our List

Sign up for our weekly science updates.

To The Magazine

Save up to 40% off the cover price when you subscribe to Discover magazine.

Copyright © 2024 Kalmbach Media Co.