Asking weird inquiries is an essential component of being a science writer. The kind of stuff that stops dinner conversations cold or renders listeners respond “You really are a nerd, aren’t you?” It’s nearly hopemuch less trying to protect oneself in these situations: “What? Who hasn’t wondered about what happened in the digestive system of Tyrannosaurus?” <…>

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Asking weird concerns is a critical component of being a science writer. The sort of stuff that stops dinner conversations cold or renders listeners respond “You really are a nerd, aren’t you?” It’s virtually hopemuch less trying to safeguard oneself in these situations: “What? Who hasn’t wondered around what happened in the digestive mechanism of Tyrannosaurus?”

The question that kept rattling approximately my skull this morning was “Why does maned wolf pee smell choose marijuana?” This isn’t among those “Why is a raven prefer a creating desk?” riddles. Maned wolves – big, South Amerideserve to canids that look prefer leggy foxes however are neither foxes nor wolves – spray incredibly pungent, distinctive urine that smells akin to hops or cannabis. The fragrant resemblance is so close that police were when dubbed to the Rotterdam Zoo in the Netherlands to search out a pot smoker, just to uncover that whoever before made the report had been fooled by the scent of maned wolf urine.

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I captured a whiff of maned wolf while visiting the Smithsonian’s National Zoo one spring morning last year. It wasn’t unpleasant – a slightly sweet, but stale and herbprefer scent. But why did it smell that way? What was the factor behind the stselection convergence in odor?


As with other dogs, pee is an essential component of a maned wolf’s communicative collection. A well-inserted urine or scat signpost provides a wealth of information about an individual maned wolf. They are not social canids – they don’t hunt in packs, and also males and females are generally just together for a short time from mating to soon after the birth of the pups – however they still use their distinctive urine to note their area and discover each various other in the time of the breeding seakid. In his 1984 report on maned wolves in the wild, zoologist James Dietz hypothesized that the specifically strong smell of their urine can be an adaptation to keeping territories by being solid enough to be detected at a distance or long after the olfactory marker had actually initially been lhelp dvery own.

Perhaps Dietz was right – extra-pungent pee would certainly be helpful to a territorial, solitary animal – however his hypothesis didn’t satisfy my curiosity. The concept possibly described why maned wolf pee is stronger than cheap cologne, but not how it acquired its strange scent. I needed observations at a finer scale, and also, fortunately for me, someone had currently undertaken the dirty job-related of analyzing the chemisattempt of the canid’s extra-strength piss.


In 2005, Sara Childs-Sanford presented her master’s thesis “The Captive Maned Wolf (Chrysocyon brachyurus): Nutritional Considerations With Emphasis on Management of Cystinuria” to the faculty of the University of Maryland. The aim of her research study was to improve the nutrition of maned wolves retained in zoos as a way to decrease the incidence of stones in the urinary tract, a widespcheck out and also regularly fatal malady among the captive animals. The problem appeared to be a buildup of cystine, an amino acid that crystallizes and creates blockages as urine becomes even more acidic. In order to identify exactly how changes in diet could make the wolf urine less acidic and also decrease the chance of cystine to crystallize, Childs-Sanford had to analyze a lot of pee, and she took the opportunity to view if the key behind the canid’s scent can be established.


Based upon what was recognized around organic compounds in the urine and feces of cats and dogs, Childs-Sanford assumed a sulfur-based compound was a possible culprit. Cats, for instance, have a sulfur-containing amino acid called felinine in their urine which is connected in scent interaction, so it seemed feasible that maned wolves had something comparable. This isn’t what Childs-Sanford found. Instead of an amino acid containing sulfur, she discovered that maned wolf urine was unique among carnivorans in having actually high levels of 2,5-dimethylpyrazine – an organic compound belonging to a team supplied in scent and chemical communication by many organisms and ssuggest called pyrazines.


Pyrazines are curious because they regularly produce solid odors that act as warnings. Insects adjusted to display screen bappropriate warning coloration likewise usage pyrazines, as perform toxic plants favor milkweeds. “The role of pyrazines for this purpose might correlate well via the normal social behavior of the maned wolf,” Childs-Sanford argued, proposing that the high pyrazine levels in maned wolf urine acted as a prominent and also long-lasting sign that a offered patch of area has already been currently spoken for. The peculiar, marijuana-smoke smell of the canid’s urine is an olfactory “Keep Out!” sign.

Should you visit a zoo that keeps maned wolves, be sure to soptimal and smell the pyrazine.

Top Image: A maned wolf (Chrysocyon brachyurus). Image from Flickr user Caroline.

References:

Childs-Sanford, S. (2005). THE CAPTIVE MANED WOLF (Chrysocyon brachyurus): NUTRITIONAL CONSIDERATIONS WITH EMPHASIS ON MANAGEMENT OF CYSTINURIA Master's Thesis: College of Maryland also, College Park, 1-163

Dietz, J. (1984). Ecology and Social Organization of the Maned Wolf (Chrysocyon brachyurus) Smithsonian Contributions to Zoology (392), 1-51


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Brian Switek is a freelance scientific research writer and also a paleontology volunteer via the Natural History Museum of Utah. He is also writer of the books My Beloved Brontosaurus and also Written in Stone.

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