July 18, 2016
Tigers: Smelling in High Def
- as seen by -Erin Mowatt
Humans have five senses (sight, smell, taste, hearing, and touch), however, cats have an extra sense. They have something called the vomeronasal organ, or the Jacobson organ, which processes information somewhere between smell and taste.
The Amur tiger pictured here is making what I like to call a “stinky face” – it is actually called the flehmen response. In German, the word flehmen means lip curl or curl of the upper lip. A tiger opens wide to allow the scent to reach the roof of its mouth where the Jacobson organ is located.
The Jacobson organ is important for mating, marking territory, and intraspecific communication. Tigers use the flehmen response when investigating different scents left by other tigers. It’s like smelling in high definition. A male tiger can actually tell if a female is ready to mate by smelling her urine. Many other species, including snakes and hoofstock, have this special organ as well.
Watch for species performing the flehmen response when visiting any of Wildlife Conservation Society zoos and aquarium.
EDITOR’S NOTE: National Zoo Keeper Week is July 16-24. Wild View is featuring posts by our Wildlife Conservation Society zoo keepers. For more on activities at our wildlife parks during keeper week, visit the Bronx Zoo’s #Keeperweek Challenge, Prospect Park Zoo’s National Zoo Keeper Week, and check for keeper chats at the Bronx Zoo, Central Park Zoo, New York Aquarium, Prospect Park Zoo, and Queens Zoo.