Turns Out the Ability to Smell Ants is Divisive

Turns Out the Ability to Smell Ants is Divisive
Image: Disney

This is the question of our time – can you smell ants? It’s a topic that has driven Twitter insane, the very simple question on if ants have a scent detectable by humans. It even got the Gizmodo Australia team into a bit of a debate.

Yes, ants can be smelled – but only by some people. Why? It’s simple, but it has Twitter divided.

Firstly, this mystery originally took TikTok by storm a year ago. Even before then, the science of the humble ant scent was being pried open. So before you think you’ve uncovered a mystery – TikTok beat you to it. Even Dr. Karl weighed in on this… Back in 2014.

Ants typically smell of formic acid (which smells kinda chemically), although this scent is only smell-able by some people. Not all ants smell the same, which makes sense given how vastly different some ant species are from others. Some smell like blue cheese, while others smell like citronella or lemon.

Why can some people smell our six-legged friends but others can’t? Well, though the science isn’t settled on that, the common consensus appears to be down to genetics. Simply put, if you have the right genes, you can smell the ants – kinda like how some people can smell asparagus (as Dr Karl taught us above).

When ants die of natural causes, they give off a slightly different scent, something along the lines of olive oil. Some even smell chocolatey when they’re squashed. But some of the ant-smelling Gizmodo Australia team tell me the smell is more like fish that has been left in the sun for a few days, and less like chocolate. (Note: please don’t squash ants just to smell them).

Is that a satisfying answer? Absolutely not, how the hell am I supposed to be content with that? I can’t smell them and now I, for some reason, really want to? What the hell is wrong with me?

I’m not alone in this either. Back to Twitter, people are racking their brains thinking about what those dang ants smell like.

Meanwhile, the genetically superior ant sniffers talk down upon us, confused at our lack of smelling prowess.

Alright, let’s all calm down and stop putting ants up to our noses. Does the ability to smell these insects actually mean anything?

No. No, you’re not better than me because you know green ants smell better than bull ants (I have no idea if this is true). It’s not really an indicator that your genes are any stronger than people who can’t smell ants (again, like asparagus) but it is a strange little bit of human biology.

Please note that, for the purposes of journalistic integrity, I did go out to my garden and see if I could smell an ant. I could not. You’re welcome.

Gizmodo Australia does not recommend putting your nose up to an ant hill to take a whiff of a colony.