The power of scent

I recently mentioned eating silkworms and I have since received some interesting new facts about them but, alas, no recipe.
One thing: if you eat them rest assured they do fall within the new “no carbs” diet.
Apparently if you catch 350 000 female silkworms – they are a doddle to catch being very slow – and empty their scent glands, you will end up with a tiny dab of greasy substance called bombycol.
It smells vaguely like leather. It is an alcohol. If you count, carefully, you’ll find it has 16 carbon atoms to the molecule.
Your sample should be just enough to allow you to weigh 0,000 000 000 000 004 of an ounce (roughly) – that’s about 0,000 001 of a picogram if you want to be pernickety.
Now wave it around in the near presence of a male moth and note how, like an Italian in a Gorgonzola factory, it becomes frantic with desire.
Even at 1km silkworms males can detect it.
Indeed, the male emperor moth is even cleverer: he can detect a female’s minute speck of a scent gland at 8km.
Yet, for all that, moths have a sense of smell only eight times better than a man’s. Note, I didn’t say “a woman’s”. A woman’s sense of smell is many pictograms more sensitive than an emperor moth’s. Believe me.
And, I’ve discovered, bee swarms have their distinctive smell and kill interlopers. In fact smell plays a vital role in the lives of all animals including humans.
I read of a study that indicated a young woman’s sense of smell is at times extremely acute and she is attracted by the smell of a man’s skin – especially the odour of a man’s palms. Try it chaps.
Herd animals, by rubbing against each other acquire a group smell and will instantly detect an interloper. Human are herd animals when you come to think of it (with a lot of predator thrown in) and, certainly, smell plays a part in our behaviour. Some community smells among humans are known to repulse other communities.
Yet body odour is a turn-on in many societies and has always been. When Henry IV was coming home from war he sent a message to Corisande de Gramont (whom he fancied), “Pray, do not bath”.
It makes you wonder what perfume, deodorants and after-shave are doing to our sense of smell and behaviour patterns.
There’s also the question of the way some animals spread their personal scent around. I am sure we once did that.
Dogs do it by lifting a leg against an object such a lamppost or tree.
Apropos of this, Farley Mowat, the Canadian biologist and author was sent by the Canadian Wildlife Service to study wolves in the Arctic. In Never Cry Wolf he tells how he pitched his tent and, each dawn, the wolf pack trotted past it, studiously ignoring him as he sat just metres away.
One day, when the wolves had gone off on their daily hunt, Mowat decided to mark his own territory just as the wolves do.
It took him the entire day to demarcate a modest area, and he had to drink litre upon litre of tea and water. Just for fun he usurped part of the wolves’ territory by peeing across their well-worn track.
The wolves came trotting back and when the lead wolf reached Mowat’s first mark it stopped dead, sat down and turned its head and looked squarely at him.
It then sniffed around Mowart’s entire demarcated area and, in a minute or two, the wolf left his mark, a couple of drops a time, on the outside of each of Mowat’s.
From then on the wolves religiously made a detour around Mowat’s territory.