The Nose Knows

The average human nose can detect over 4,000 different smells, many of which trigger memories (think of home-made chocolate chip cookies and remember where, when and with whom they were made and devoured!). Those individuals with super olfactory senses can recognize over 10,000 unique aromas, and a fictional biography titled Perfume: The Story of a Murderer includes a main character who can detect a worm in an apple and money hidden behind bricks. Some researchers postulate that the ability to smell, and the ability of others to smell us, is essential to our humanity.

Rumor has it that women in Ancient Rome drank turpentine in order to give their urine an odor of roses. According to medical literature drinking turpentine does impart a scent of violets to the urine, a fact that was known to physicians in first-century Rome. However, this may be just a myth since there is no documentary evidence of this practice in any Roman writings. Since turpentine is most commonly used as a solvent to thin paint, drinking a turpentine potion may result in the death of the female in question rather than sweeten the aroma of her body waste!

Lemurs are small creatures known as prosimians, which literally means “pre-monkey,” the most primitive of the living primates. Native only to the island of Madagascar and the neighboring Comoro Islands, lemurs resemble the oldest ancestors of primates which existed tens of millions of years ago. While most lemurs spend their time in the rainforest canopy, ring-tailed lemurs generally stay on the ground. These cat-sized animals live in communities called troops and are diurnal, awake during the day and asleep at night. Lemurs also have a superpower: they can smell weakness.

The law of the jungle states that only the strongest survive, and when it comes to figuring out who is the weakest member of the team, the ring-tailed lemur appears to have a major advantage. Lemurs fight to determine communal hierarchy or mating privileges, chasing and lunging at each other and biting, swatting or pulling out tufts of fur. Such scuffles are normal behaviors for lemurs both in the wild and in captivity, and can leave them with cuts, bite marks and other wounds.

Male and female ring-tails have scent glands in their genital areas, while males also have them in their wrists and shoulders. Each individual eau-de-lemur fragrance communicates a health status, and lemurs who sustain an injury temporarily dial back their signature chemical cocktail. Other lemurs can detect this odor deficiency, and move swiftly past the injured animal to climb the social ladder. Which proves that while an injured, weak or fearful lemur can make every effort to appear robust and healthy, in the end it is impossible to deceive other troop members.

Although lemurs would not utilize ICD-10-CM, the following codes are available for human patients:

R53.1 Weakness
R53.81 Other malaise
M62.81 Muscle weakness (generalized)
T14.90XA Injury, unspecified, initial encounter

Human interaction trusts in the exchange of verbal and visual information to determine an individual’s wellness status. Some animals, such as lemurs, have an extra sense that help them quantify the strength of a rival, without a direct exchange of information. In the words of Garth Nix, author of the fantasy novel Lireal:

“Hear, hear,” said the Dog, raising her head. “It’s always better to be doing, Prince. Besides, you don’t smell like a coward, so you can’t be one.”