February 26, 2011
When pigeons sniff their way home, the right nostril comes in much handier than the left, researchers report January 27 in the Journal of Experimental Biology. Previous evidence of this asymmetry led an international team of researchers to investigate 28 homing pigeons outfitted with GPS devices.
The team plugged either a pigeon's left or right nostril and then released the birds about 40 kilometers from home. While all the birds headed out in the correct direction, pigeons with a blocked right nostril took a more circuitous path, stopping and exploring more en route, suggesting that the right nostril is important for processing navigation-related odors. The team notes that people also favor the right nostril when detecting and evaluating the intensity of odors, hinting at a broader olfactory asymmetry.
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