Let’s start off this article with a reference to The Golden Girls. Not because they were particularly pungent — no, in fact, the four of them were fragrant, lovely ladies — but because I want to borrow Sophia’s famous catchphrase: picture this…
So, picture this… you’re on a night out with some good friends, the wine is flowing, you’re eating a delicious meal and the cheese course arrives. Someone mentions the Brie and how powerful its odour is and the conversation turns to smelly cheeses.
A discussion takes place over the most foul-smelling cheeses and someone looks it up online because two of your friends are threatening to ‘take it outside’ over whether Stinking Bishop wins the top prize or Roquefort. Ah, you say, so that’s the whiffiest one and you share the news with the gathered friends.
Then you all begin to wonder at other smelly things. What, for instance, is the smelliest thing on Earth? Is the skunk the worst smelling animal or is there something far worse? Which flower has the worst smelling fragrance? And is a fruit really banned in Asia because of its pong?
Well, if this is you, you’ve come to the right place. In this article, we’ll answer all these questions and more. In the immortal words of another icon (this time Bette Davis): buckle up it’s going to be a smelly night. Okay, so the actual words are ‘bumpy night’ but I took a bit of licence with it.
So, back to our smellies list…
1 The Smelliest Cheese
The smelliest cheese, according to the UK’s Cranfield University, is Vieux Boulogne, a soft French cheese.
Matured between seven and nine weeks, the unpasteurised cheese is made from cow’s milk by cheesemakers Antoine Bernard and Philippe Olivier. Unpressed and square in shape, it weighs in at 500g or 18 oz and is pre-salted. Nineteen researchers (and one electronic ‘nose’) compared 15 of the world’s stinkiest cheeses to determine which one was the smelliest and Vieux Boulogne came out tops.
2 The Smelliest Molecule
The world’s smelliest molecule is an organosulfur compound known as Ethyl Mercaptan which apparently smells of rotting cabbage, onions, garlic, burnt toast and sewers. Also known as Ethanethiol, it is a colourless liquid and its formula is CH3CH2SH. Toxic in high concentrations, it is naturally found in small amounts in petroleum, but is intentionally added to the normally odourless butane and propane to make gas leaks easier to detect.
However, it is not the only smelly molecule as Butyl Seleno-mercaptan (LINK 13) is equally as smelly according to scientists. A clear to yellowish liquid, it apparently resembles skunk spray.
3 The Smelliest Plant
Amorphophallus Titanum, also known as the Corpse Flower, is widely believed to be the smelliest plant on Earth.
Found in the rainforests and limestone hills of western Sumatra, when it blooms it releases a scent that has been compared to a combination rotten flesh, sweaty socks, cheese, poo and rotten fish. It is so rank; it can be smelled half a mile away. The eye-watering stink, however, is highly attractive to certain bugs, particularly carrion eat beetles and flesh flies.
At three metres high, it is also the tallest flower in the world. In fact, one reached the heady heights of 3.2 metres at the Botanical Gardens Bonn in Germany.
4 The Smelliest Bird
This is a bird called the Hoatzin or Hoactzin (Opisthocomus Hoazin) which comes from the South America and is locally known as Pava Hedionda, or stinking pheasant. Other names it has include the reptile bird, the skunk bird, and the stinkbird. Apparently smelling like cow manure, the bird’s unique scent is thought to be caused by its exclusive diet of green leaves combined with the fermentation of its gut.
Found in the swamps and mangroves of the Amazon and Orinocco Basins, the Hoatzin is also famous for its chicks who hatch with claws on their wings. The claws allow the young birds to climb trees and these disappear around adulthood when the chicks are fully fledged. Standing at around 65cm, the adult bird has a featherless blue face and spiky head crest. It is mostly brown in colour and it is known as a noisy species of bird through its cries, grunt, hisses and groans. It is rarely hunted for food as its flesh is reportedly nasty tasting, but that didn’t stop the Guyanese choosing it as their national bird.
5 The Smelliest Mammal
Unsurprisingly, the world’s stinkiest mammal is the Striped Skunk (Mephitis mephitis) which ejects disgusting smelling liquid from its anal glands if it feels itself to be in danger. Two of the substances in the liquid are responsible for the horrendous odour and are so smelly a human can detect it at 10 parts per billion, the equivalent of a tiny amount an Olympic-sized swimming pool.
Found in North America, it measures between 52 and 77 cm long (the males being bigger) and usually is black with white stripes running from its head to tail. Perhaps the most famous striped skunk in the world was the Warner Bros cartoon character, Pepe Le Pew. An interesting fact about the skunk is that Chicago was called after it. The name of the city derives from the Cree and Ojibwe word shee-gawk which means skunk land.
6 The Smelliest Frog
This is the Venezuelan Skunk Frog (Aromobates nocturnus) whose nasty skin secretion is released when it is in danger. The secretion contains the same organosulphur compound that is present in skunk emissions, which is probably how it got its name.
Only discovered by science in 1991, at 6.2cm long this is also the largest member of the poison-arrow frog family. Nocturnal, it can be found swimming in cold water streams inVenzuelan cloud forests.
7 The Smelliest Fruit
Durian is believed to be the smelliest fruit in the world and is actually banned in several countries across South Asia where it is found. Apparently smelling of pig faeces (although some people think it smells sweet), Durian has a milky, custard-like texture and is believed to have a number of health benefits including improving digestion, boosting the immune system and lowering blood pressure.
Found on several tree species of the genus Durio, while there are 30 different types of Durio trees only nine produce fruit that is edible. Talking of the fruit, it can grow to a size of 30cm and usually weighs between 1–3kg (or 2–7 pounds).
8 The Smelliest Bug
The Shore Earwig (Labidura riparia), which is found in tropical and sub-tropical regions, emits a foul-smelling substance to ward off predators. Containing two sulfur-based compounds, dimethyl disulfide and dimethyl trisulfide, the smell has been likened to rotting matter.
Also known as the striped earwig, tawny earwig or riparian earwig, they can grow to between 16 and 30 mm long and have ten abdominal segments. They live in dark, moist environments and live on insects and carrion. Interestingly males of this species have two penises, which they can use interchangeably although they often have a preference for which one they use the most. Scientists discovered that they have a 90% preference for the righthand one. There you go, bet you always wanted to know that!
9 The Smelliest Planet
No, this is not a pun, but the smellies planet in our solar system is Uranus. The seventh planet from our sun, its atmosphere contains high levels of hydrogen sulfide, a colourless poisonless gas which has the scent of rotten eggs.
Classed as an ice planet, Uranus has a number of moons and a ring system surrounding it. Uranus is the first planet to be classified as a planet with the use of a telescope. It was discovered by Sir William Herschel (LINK 17), a German-born British composer and astronomer, in March 1781. Herschel also pioneered the use of astronomical spectrophotometry and discovered infrared radiation.
10 The Smelliest Animal Overall
According to scientists at Wageningen University in the Netherlands, the world’s smelliest animals are…human beings. This is because not only do we emit odours from every part of our bodies, but micro-organisms living on us do it too. So, it’s a double whammy of stinks! During research into why human scent attracts mosquitoes, scientists looked at the distribution, functions and secretion of human skin glands and compared them to other primates. They expected humans to be comparable with our closest relations, chimps and gorillas. But despite having glands in the same places, we are not the same stink-wise.
They found that we as a species are far smellier than other primates. Why is this? Scientists think it’s all down to the fact that primates such as chimps and gorillas release more oils as a protection for their fir, while we release a pungent sweat, which is unique in the animal kingdom.
So, there you go. At your next dinner party, you can now wow your friends with this fascinating list of the world’s smelliest things. Who would have thought we humans would have come out tops for the smelliest creature of all? Well, at least now we all know why the perfume industry makes such a lot of money every year!