Do Ants Really Smell?

Several weeks ago, a TikTok video posted by a user sparked a discussion about whether or not ants really smell. The clip was harmless, but the user was right to point out that not all people were familiar with the fact that ants can smell.

For many years, people have believed that odorous house ants smell like rotten coconuts. In fact, these ants do indeed produce a smell that smells like rotten coconuts. But rotten coconuts are not the only source of ant scent.

Researchers are now beginning to study the scent of ants more closely. They have found that some ants produce pheromones that help them identify each other, and that they also can distinguish between the smells of different foods. These pheromones can help keep ants clean, as well as indicate whether or not they are in danger.

Researchers have discovered that ants have a more sophisticated sense of smell than other insects. Their olfactory system contains about four to five times more odor receptors than other insects. These odor receptors are classified into three types: IRs (ionotropic receptors), GRs (gustatory receptors) and SRs (sensilla receptors).

These receptors detect different types of aromatic compounds. In fact, most ants can detect odors that would confuse most other animals. Interestingly, the IRs and GRs are comparable in number to those of humans.

Researchers also found that ants are particularly good at detecting chemicals that are not easily evaporated. These chemicals, called nonvolatiles, are likely to have developed to serve ants in close quarters.