Which Are the Smelliest Animals in the World?

The smelliest animals in the world use their awful scent to ward off predators, digest food, and attract mates.

Jun 9, 2023By Sara Payne
smelliest animals

Most people are familiar with skunks and how stinky they can be when they get startled. However, did you know there are more types of animals that have a powerful scent?

The animal kingdom is full of stinky animals that use scents in interesting ways. From warding off predators to digesting food to attracting mates, the Musk Ox, Striped Polecat, King Ratsnake, Hoatzin, and Southern Tamandua are the smelliest animals in the world!

#1 Musk Ox

musk ox

Musk Oxen have long, shaggy hair, a large cow-like appearance, and horns. Although they are bovines, they are more closely related to goats than cows.

These smelly creatures are herbivores, feeding on the grasses, sedges, and willows in their northern habitat. They use their disgusting smell (called musk) during mating season (August to October). Male Musk Oxen secrete the scent, which some say is like rotting cheese, all over their fur. More dominant males have a stronger scent. This scent attracts a female so the pair can reproduce.

Musk Oxen, alongside sabertoothed tigers and mammoths, have been around since the last Ice Age when they were common in many parts of the world. Although in the past, they were hunted until almost extinct, they are now doing well due to conservation efforts. They currently live in the Arctic Islands, Canada, Alaska, Siberia, and Greenland.

#2 Striped Polecat

striped polecat

Polecats and skunks get mistaken for one another quite often. They can look and act quite similarly. But they are technically in different animal families.

Skunks live in North America. They are typically black and white striped and produce a foul-smelling secretion from their anal glands.

Polecats live in Europe, Asia, and Africa. Most polecats are brown and white. However, the African Striped Polecat has white stripes and black fur, making them look like a skunk at first glance. They are related to ferrets, though, and not skunks.

Striped Polecats spray musk from their anal glands said to smell like burnt hair. They can spray their secretions, like skunks do, to ward off predators. In addition, they also use their musky smell to mark their territory.

Both females, and males produce these secretions. Their sulphuric smell can also let other Striped Polecats know if they are ready to mate or not.

#3 King Ratsnake

king ratsnake

This black and yellow striped snake is a constrictor that can grow to about 7+ feet in length. The King Ratsnakeis also sometimes called the “Stink Snake” because of its overwhelming scent.

These smelly constrictors feed on other snakes and lizards for much of their diet. They are native to the forests of Taiwan, China, and Japan. The King Ratsnake is used by people in China as food and for medicinal purposes. They are also sold for their skin and as pets. Yet, when you pick up these black and yellow snakes, they empty out their post-anal glands. This creates a horrific smell that some people claim smells like death, others like feces.

The secretions are a defense mechanism, meant to stop predators in their tracks while the snake gets away.

#4 Hoatzin “Stinkbird”

stink bird

Native to the Amazon and Orinoco River basins, the Hoatzin is a chicken-sized bird with a reputation for a foul smell. Hoatzins, also known as Stinkbirds, eat swamp plants. They are too big to fly long distances, so they sit around on branches overlooking the rivers and digest their leaves in a process similar to cows.

Their digestive system is unlike any other known bird. The gullet and crop is a food storage pouch near the bird’s throat. It ferments the vegetation eaten by the Hoatzin. The whole process of digestion lasts about 45 hours for the Stinkbird.

Its tell-tale scent is due to the way it digests its food. Since the food sits in this pouch, fermenting with bacteria all day, the aroma the bird emits is much like cow manure. It is said to be very powerful and unpleasant.

#5 Southern Tamandua

southern tamandua

Tamanduas are a type of anteater. They have long tongues, short dense fur, and large claws. These smelly animals roam much of South America, living in forests, savannas, rainforests, and mangroves.

What makes the Southern Tamandua a member of the smelliest animals list, is their anal glands. These stinky creatures secrete a musk-like substance to ward off predators when they are backed into a corner.

The smelly tamanduas are insectivores, which is why they have such long tongues. They live around 9 years and are solitary creatures. Yet, some people keep these animals as pets. Tamanduas can be gentle creatures, but their smell can be problematic.

Smelly animals use their scents to ward off predators, attract mates, and digest their food. These unique stinky creatures come from all around the world. The smelliest animals in the world are important to their individual ecosystems, even if their smell is offensive to humans.

Sara Payne
By Sara Payne

Sara is a mother of two and a high school English teacher who rediscovered her love of writing during the pandemic. She has 5 rescue cats: Neville and Luna, who are white cats with black and grey spots, and Ginny, Blue, and Fairy, who are calicos. Besides taking care of humans and fur babies, Sara enjoys gardening, crafting, and spending time in nature.