Olfaction in the Gorilla

  • Peter Hepper
  • Deborah Wells
  • Patrick McArdle
  • Dwyer Coleman
  • Mark Challis


It has been argued that the great apes have poor olfactory capabilities and that olfactory stimuli convey little useful information for them. Thus odours and scents have little functional significance for the great apes in guiding their behaviour. Part of this belief has been based on the observation that brain volume in those areas dealing with olfactory stimuli relative to other brain areas is greatly reduced in these apes. Moreover, naturalistic observations report little obvious olfactory guided behaviour. We have initiated a programme of work (Project SOAP) investigating the olfactory abilities, and the functions of smell, in the great apes. Here we report an initial study examining whether the western lowland gorilla (Gorilla gorilla gorilla) is able to detect and discriminate between different odours presented on cloths. The study revealed that gorillas can both detect the presence of an odour and discriminate between different odours. An incidental observation demonstrated one trial olfactory guided taste aversion learning which persisted for over 7 weeks. We conclude that gorillas have a functioning olfactory sense that they use in the investigation of their environment, and that olfaction may not be as irrelevant in great apes as has been suggested.


Spider Monkey Olfactory Stimulus Gorilla Gorilla Outdoor Enclosure Olfactory Stimulation 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media,LLC 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Peter Hepper
    • 1
  • Deborah Wells
  • Patrick McArdle
  • Dwyer Coleman
  • Mark Challis
  1. 1.School of PsychologyQueen’s University of BelfastBelfast BT7 1NNUK

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