PerspectiveEcology

Follow the odor

Science  27 Jun 2014:
Vol. 344, Issue 6191, pp. 1454
DOI: 10.1126/science.1255748

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Summary

We rely on our noses to notice that the milk has gone bad before we drink it, but disregard our sense of smell when it comes to finding food sources, instead using our eyes to track down the nearest supermarket. Most other animals, however, rely on olfaction to find the remote food sources. Tracking down an odor source poses a particular challenge: Odors occur in turbulent plumes and break into thin filaments, and target odors intermingle with background odors (see the figure). On page 1515, Riffell et al. (1) choose an excellent model system—a foraging sphinx moth, Manduca sexta, searching for its nectar resource, the flowers of Datura wrightii—to shed light on how insects track odors in complex odor environments.