Have you ever wondered how your cat can sniff out a tin of tuna from the other side of the house?
Or how it always seems to know when a stranger’s around? It turns out cats have an exceptional sense of smell, thanks to a complex structure inside their noses.
Scientists from Ohio State’s College of Medicine have used 3D computer modeling to study the ins and outs of a cat’s nose.
Their analysis shows that when a cat takes a breath, the air splits into two streams inside their nasal cavity.
One stream gets cleaned and humidified (which basically means it gets prepped for the lungs), and the other zips right to the back of the nose, where it helps the cat recognize specific smells.
In fact, the scientists say a cat’s nose works in a similar way to a lab instrument called a gas chromatograph.
This tool separates different chemicals in vapors, helping scientists figure out what they’re made of. According to the study, the cat’s nose is so good at this it could inspire improvements to the gas chromatographs scientists use today.
Why did cats evolve this way? The researchers think it’s because cats have small heads.
Their compact size might have driven the evolution of a twisty, maze-like airway structure in the nose that fits neatly inside and helps cats adapt to different environments.
This complex nose structure is really important for animals, according to Kai Zhao, the lead researcher of the study.
It helps them find food, avoid danger, understand their environment, and even figure out who or what has been around.
The scientists found that the structure of the cat’s nose is just as complex as a dog’s and even more complex than a rodent’s.
They believe the complex structure allows the cat to process smells very quickly, rather than waiting for the air to filter through the respiratory zone, which could lead to a loss of odor detection.
The research team also found that the air that rushes to the olfactory region (the part of the nose responsible for smell) gets recirculated, or processed for a longer time. This helps the cat better understand the smell.
Overall, the researchers found that a cat’s nose is more than 100 times better at detecting odors than the straight nose of a similar-sized amphibian.
This breakthrough study helps us understand more about the evolution of different nose structures and why they’re so important. Who knew the secrets of the universe could be hiding in a cat’s nose?
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The study was published in PLOS Computational Biology.