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College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences


Smart Stuff with Twig Walkingstick: Big Stink? Smell a Winner! (for the Week of Feb. 3, 2008)

February 3, 2008

Q. Dear Twig: What's the worst smell in the world?


A. Here are two of my personal favorites, ones I've actually smelled myself (but not smelled like) (at least not that anyone's said):

Snake musk, which snakes squirt to scare away predators. The stink's due to reeky lipids — fats.

And a rotten chicken egg that my human friend Trunk didn't see and stepped on. It made a loud "Pop!" and a stink cloud came out and we got a good whiff and we screamed and ran off. The stink of rotten eggs is due to a gas called hydrogen sulfide.

And here are two smells that I've not smelled myself but which some people rank as the worst in the world. For now let's take their word for it:

Who Me?, a little-used World War II U.S. secret stink spray, meant to be spritzed on the enemy to embarrass them. "Ach!"

And U.S. Government Standard Bathroom Malodor, invented for testing cleaning products. Said a stink-bomb expert in wonder, "It gets to you in ways that are unimaginable." Imagine!

Smelly, in the end, is in the nose of the beholder.


P.S. Fun words to use for bad smells: funky, stenchy, frowzy, smellful. Try them in a sentence!

Notes: Sources included the enlightening "Stench Warfare" by Stephanie Pain in New Scientist magazine, July 7, 2001 (the "unimaginable" comment, by a cognitive psychologist/stink-bomb developer named Pam Dalton of the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia, comes from that story); and the firsthand-knowledge-based "Comparison of the Scent Gland Secretions of Twenty-five Snakes: Implications for Biochemical Systematics" in the journal Copeia, 1976.

"Smart Stuff with Twig Walkingstick," published by The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences — specifically, by the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center (OARDC) and Ohio State University Extension, the research and outreach arms, respectively, of the College — is a weekly column for children about science, nature, farming and the environment. It's written at a 4th-grade reading level. For details, to ask Twig a question, and/or to receive the column free by mail or e-mail, contact Kurt Knebusch, CommTech, OSU/OARDC,1680 Madison Ave., Wooster, OH 44691,, (330) 263-3776. Online at

Kurt Knebusch