Do dead humans smell worse than other dead animals?

Whenever I watch Autopsy on HBO or whenever I hear about a dead human body found in the woods, it’s always first discovered by someone who “smelled something rotting”. Now, animals are dying all the time in the woods. How come they don’t give off the same kind of smell? You never hear about a team of investigators going out into the woods because of a foul smell only to find a dead raccoon or deer. Do dead humans smell worse, or at least different?

I would imagine animals of the woods are dead for different reasons than humans and so smell accordingly. Example: a raccoon is killed and eaten by a bobcat—whatever is left gets scavanged or scattered. Or: a racoon has reached the end of it’s racoon lifespan and is dying. Racoon finds a suitable refuge and dies peacefully alone. I don’t think most woodland creatures drop in their tracks of coronaries. Humans, however, being out of their natural habitat, the city, drop dead or have violence inflicted upon them. Since they are now carrion, many woodland creatures of larger size won’t eat them. Black bears prefer fruit to dead person. Deer are herbivores. Above mentioned bobcat couldn’t eat a whole person in even 2 or 3 sittings and would perfer something more mobile, anyhow. So dead human is left to rot and a 150 pounds of decaying anything is going to really smell.

Animals may be dying all the time in the woods, but they rarely get buried in a shallow grave. Most animals are killed by predators, accident or disease and are quickly eaten. A human body disposed of in the woods is usually buried, or at least wrapped in a dropcloth or enclosed in an abandoned car. (You don’t want to take the trouble of dragging your dead wife all the way out into the woods if you’re gonna just leave her out in the open for any hiker to discover. Think, man!) That makes it difficult for scavengers to get at and eat up, so the body rots in situ, creating a noticeable smell.

Incidentally, I see no reason why decomposing human bodies should smell any different than any other large mammal. We’re all built from the same stuff. (I’m not speaking as a professional, here, I’m just an enthusiast. :smiley: ) In fact, several studies have been done on human decomposition using pig carcasses ('cause they’re about the right size and composition).

A couple of guys I knew that were in Nam said human bodies smelled worse that anything else they’d ever encountered. They attributed it to the diverse diet but that probably was just speculation.

I’ve been by the animal pit at the local dump in the past and that smelled pretty ripe… one of the worst things I’ve ever smelled, actually. I can’t imagne a human corpse (or few) would smell much worse after its been in the sun after a few days than a few dogs and cats in the same situation.

I was going to say that Humans are relatively large on average compared to the sort of animals that one might encounter as corpses on a stroll in the woods; certainly this is true here in Europe; a dead rabbit, crow or even a badger is so small that it will be pretty much dried up and eaten away by invertebrates before it gets really rank.

But that logic doesn’t necessarily hold for you lot over the pond; you have big fauna; bears and mooses (meece?) and stuff.

Well, I’ve never smelled a decomposing human but I can assure you that a putrifying animal of equivalent size smells extremely bad. I don’t see why a human would smell any different.

The thing is that humans are a lot bigger than almost any animal you are going to find in an urban or rural environment, and hence will be detectable over a much greater area. The main exceptions will be large domestic animals like cows and horses, and these will often be dragged away and buried or otherwise disposed of by owners.

I’ve smelled both. No difference.

Warning: This is complete speculation…
It would stand to reason that most animals would have a unique odor upon decay, even if the differences were slight. I may be mistaken, but I believe corpse sniffing dogs can be trained to seek specifically human remains. If my guess that human remains can indeed be distinguished is correct, I would not be surprised if an aversion to that smell demonstrated itself as a defense mechanism. Where dead humans can be found, poisoned water, disease, or other dangers may be present.
[sub]sorry, not could not find any cites to confirm or deny my logic[/sub]

Rest assured the smell is similar. The level of odor is a factor of size, heat and age. At its height, be it a dead and decomposed man, pig, cow or horse, it’s not anything you want to have anything to do with. You can’t get the smell off your cloths or off your person, although that may be psychological. The smell of death is unique.

I suppose the general composition of humans can tend to include a higher proportion of fat than many wild animals; this might make a subtle difference to the bouquet.

Incidentally, a book called Dead Men do Tell Tales, by William Maples, discusses the reek of decaying corpses in nauseating detail. It’s a great read for anyone interested in the subject.

Well, it would hardly be newsworthy.

I don’t doubt the points previously raised, but just to add my $.02: the worst smell I’ve ever gagged on was that of a dead and quite decomposed lizard, about 4" in length, that was sucked up by a vacuum cleaner and instantaneously filled the house with that “hot dead funky lizard exhaust” smell. :eek: (Incidentally, the lizard corpse was a gift left to us under a sofa by our lizard-killing cat.) Unbelievable power-of-funk:size-of-corpse ratio there.
But my first reaction to the OP was, “It depends on what aftershave or perfume the person was using”. :smiley:

Something as small as a mouse can make an entire room smell like poisonous rotten death, provided it’s lost well enough that you can’t find it for a long time. I don’t even want to think about what 150 pounds of rotting human flesh would smell like :eek:

Actually, it could be, if a significantly sized team went out to invesitgate, and someone tipped off the news channel and it was a slow news day, this is the sort of story my local news would cover. They’d make a big deal out of the heart rending tragedy faced daily by the team, and interview the leader saying something like “This time it was just a possum, but it could just have easily been someone’s son or daughter. Those are the tough ones”. They tend to highlight the “hero” angle, and wouldn’t make a big deal out of the fact that no human body was actually found.


Wow, talk about stinking up the place. Hey, dyslexic expletive deleted, go find yourself another bulletin board. This place is manned by former badass Disney ride bouncers, and even threads like this one have an emotional maturity index board (a cutout of Woody Allen, natch), and if you don’t measure up, you don’t get to go on the ride. The best thing you can hope for in this virtual life is to be terminated quickly and rebirth as a sockpuppet with a modicum of sense.

So move along, now, [Monty Python]or I shall insult you a second time-uh![/MP]

Seriously. Screw off.

[Sweetness and innocencem, and a Southern Belle accent to boot]Why, Scrivener, what ever are you talking about[/Sweetness &ct.] :wink:

I know, I know… I normally defend the God-given right of newbies to be a board-protected species of idiot, at least for a probationary period. But this kid was just a sociopathic juvie delingquent, or I’ll eat my hat. And what with his getting my ire up and my trying to follow “The West Wing” at the same time, I end up sounding like Foghorn Leghorn[Warner Bros. TM; Disney characters blow] or something. Got my syntax screwed up something fierce back there.

But, seriously and for the record, I was banging out my response while his post was still registered as “Member,” before you changed it to “Banned”. Just so I don’t come off as a complete chickenhead for all posterity, Ma’am.

Plus, I blew the opportunity to trot out an insult like “May you, ‘dyslexic expletive deleted,’ be reborn as a sockpuppet banana slug in a salt mine”. Ah jus’ luv those florid-soundin’ retorts!

Thank you Mods for the quick coup-de-gras. Ah do declare the young rapscallion had all the lifespan of a no-see-um!

And then I go and mispell “delinquent”. Idiot.

O.K., I’ll shut up now. How about that Roald Dahl, eh?