At this time of year, people seek out ways of making their home smell festive: scented oils and candles, potpouri, and my personal favorite, baking cookies. That’s because scent can evoke powerful memories and elicit unexpected reactions.
Earlier this week, as I was walking across a parking lot, I noticed a couple of guys carrying a Christmas tree to their truck. As they walked past, my response to scent of pine needles caught me by surprise. Even though I had lots to do, I stopped, changed direction and walked over to the display of trees, deeply breathing in their delicious scent.
Animals respond to scent too, sometimes even to scents that we would find unpleasant, like the scent of cigarette butts. Scientists at the National Autonomous University of Mexico in Mexico City did a study of the nests of urban house sparrows (Passer domesticus) house finches (Carpodacus mexicanus). “They measured the amount of cellulose acetate (a component of cigarette butts) in the nests.” Cellulose acetate serves a useful purpose – to line the nest and help keep it warm. But they also found that the more cellulose acetate was present, “the fewer parasitic mites the nest contained.”
What could be the cause of this repellent effect? Was it the cellulose acetate or something else? It turns out that the bug-be-gone ingredient was nicotine. How did they determine this?
The scientists put heated traps (heat attracts parasites) in the bird nests found on their university campus. These traps were laced with cellulose acetate fibers from the butts of smoked or unsmoked cigarettes. “They found that the traps with butts from unsmoked cigarettes had many more parasites than the devices with butts from smoked cigarettes.” Smoked cigareet butts contain more nicotine than unsmoked cigarette butts. So if “the nests with unsmoked butts caught more than twice as many parasites”, then they concluded that the nicotine repelled the parasites.
While we may turn up our nose at the thought of discarded cigarette butts, these birds were engaged in the human equivalent of placing a warm quilt on the couch and lighting a “scented” candle. When you put it that way, it sounds kinda’ cozy, doesn’t it?
Upcoming Outdoor Events:
Trail Maintenance Schedule. Come join our volunteers as they help maintain our trails. Contact Steve at firstname.lastname@example.org for time and place.
Wednesday mornings, December 5, 12, & 19.
Saturday mornings, December 1 & 15.
Saturday, December 15, 9:30-11:30 AM. “Wild Birds of Autumn” at Towsley Canyon. The birds are busy preparing for winter. Beginning birders are welcome. Binoculars optional. Meet outside at the front gate. Click here for a map and directions.
Saturday, December 15, 9:30-11:30 PM. “Cool Adaptations at Pico Canyon”. Nature’s creatures are busy preparing for the coming winter. Bundle up and join us to observe how wildlife and plant life adapt to survive the short days and cold months. Meet in the parking lotadjacent to Mentryille. Click here for a map and directions.
New trail maps available. If you’d like to explore a bit on your own, the City of Santa Clarita has a website with trail maps of our local open spaces: http://hikesantaclarita.com/.
There’s also a new website for bicycle riders. http://bikesantaclarita.com
You can listen to stories like this every Friday morning at 7:10 a.m. on “The SCV Outdoor Report”, brought to you by your hometown radio station KHTS (AM1220) and by the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority.
Or check out our Facebook page – L.A. Mountains.