The science of why some people smell ants

Wait, people can smell ants?!

Or, if you're the woman in this TikTok video, it's actually more bizarre that people can not smell ants.



♬ original sound – E-milly 😳💸💯🔥

I will admit that I have not given much thought to this debate either way. But Popular Science has weighed in with an interesting explanation for why Eau de Dead Ant is apparently as contentious as Laurel and Yanny, or a color changing dress:

 Some species, including carpenter ants, spray formic acid, a caustic chemical that smells a lot like vinegar, when they feel threatened. (Some people think that the ability to smell formic acid is genetic, like asparagus, and that might be why some people are more sensitive to this particular ant smell than others.) Citronella ants are named for the distinctive citrusy scent they often produce, and trap-jaw ants release a chocolatey smell when squished. When ants die of natural causes, they also release oleic acid, so dead ants "smell a little something like olive oil," Penick says.


With all these varied, useful odors that ants produce, chances are you don't know what they smell like because of a lack of curiosity, Penick says. Perhaps you don't have the gene that allows you to smell formic acid, but it's more likely that you've just never taken the time to sniff your little neighbors.

There's more at the link, of course, if you are similarly curious about this phenomenon that you never knew you had to worry about.

Why can some people smell ants? Here's the answer to TikTok's latest mystery. [Rachael Zisk / Popular Mechanics]

Image: Rakeshkdogra / Wikimedia Commons (CC 3.0)