9 Animals With Shockingly Strange Noses

A male Proboscis monkey with a dark brown furry head munching on a green plant.
Proboscis monkey.

Nora Carol Photography / Getty Images

Breathing and smelling are not the only things a nose is good for. In the animal world, they're used for much more: From tentacled protrusions that find food, tools for eating and drinking, grabbers, and mating signals, the nose is a major component of survival for these nine creatures, ranging from fish to primates.

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Star-nosed Mole

A star-nosed mole with its paws out and telltale pink star-shaped nose.

Stan Tekiela Author / Naturalist / Wildlife Photographer / Getty Images

The 22 tentacles, or rays, that form the super-powered sniffer on the star-nosed mole make this mammal one of nature's fastest foragers. An adaptation due to the mole’s poor sight, it uses the protrusions to quickly find food — often small worms and fish — and touch up to 12 objects per second. Unlike other moles, the star-nosed mole can swim — and smell — underwater. You’re unlikely to see one of these mammals in the wild since they spend most of their time underground.

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Snub-Nosed Monkey

A golden snub nosed monkey sitting on a branch surrounded by green leaves and trees.

Richard McManus / Getty Images

There are five species of snub-nosed monkeys, and they all have the same flat nose with wide, forward-facing nostrils. The golden snub-nosed monkey (pictured) lives in the snowy mountainous region of southwestern China. It is believed that the flat design and flaps over its nose may protect the snub-nosed monkey from frostbite. The golden snub-nosed monkey is endangered with threats primarily from habitat loss due to agriculture and tourism.

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Elephant

An elephant with its trunk outstretched walks on a path of dirt with green trees behind it.

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When you think of unusual noses, elephants might be the first creatures that come to mind — although their trunks do much more than sniff. They can also touch, taste, and breathe with their trunks, plus pick up branches, use the trunk as a hose on hot days, and reach far-away fruits. When elephants swim, they can use their handy trunk as a built-in snorkel. An elephant's nostrils are located at the end of their trunk, and their heightened sense of smell can detect a water source up to 12 miles away.

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Proboscis Monkey

A proboscis monkey with a dark brown fur head, tan body, and large, flat, paddle-shaped nose.

superwebdeveloper / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

When it comes to primates, the longest nose belongs to the proboscis monkey, with a length of nearly 7 inches. The nose enhances the quality of the monkey’s vocalizations. The males, which have larger noses, make a loud honking sound to attract females. The proboscis monkey, which is endemic to Borneo, is also found in Brunei, Indonesia, and Malaysia. The primate prefers forest areas — including lowlands and swamps — and is on the IUCN Red List as an endangered species.

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Elephantnose Fish

A black elephantnose fish underwater with green plants around him.

slowmotiongli / Getty Images

The elephantnose fish, which can grow to lengths of 14 inches, is most often found at the bottom of freshwater regions in Africa. Its long nose really comes in handy as it probes for food. A report in the Journal of Experimental Biology shows that the fish uses electrolocation to track down food. Another weird fact: the nose is actually a chin, and it comes with the electroreceptors that allow the fish to find its way in the dark.

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Homing Pigeon

A gray homing pigeon with white, purple, and green accents standing on a rooftop.

TJ Blackwell / Getty Images

The homing pigeon's ability to find its way home from just about anywhere seems nothing short of miraculous to those of us who still get lost in Manhattan. The GPS-like trait was first thought to come from iron-rich neurons in the bird's beak, but this theory was disproven. Scientists believe they may be closer to the answer with research linking brainstem cell activation in the inner ear when the pigeons are exposed to magnetic fields. This helps them find their way back to their own personal nest from more than 1,000 miles away.

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African Giant Pouched Rat

An outstretched African giant pouched rat perched on a tree branch surrounded by green leaves.

Anthony Bannister / Getty Images

Bomb-sniffing duties no longer fall just to dogs: a group of African giant pouched rats goes out into the field, too, to track down and identify landmines. Though the rats have a sense of smell that's about as strong as a dog's, they're much smaller — about nine to 17 inches long, which is still pretty huge for a rat — which lets them navigate more easily in tight spaces.

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Hammerhead Shark

A hammerhead shark swimming near the ocean's surface with its mouth open.

Alastair Pollock Photography / Getty Images

Like other animals on this list, the hammerhead shark uses its protrusion for a lot more than just smelling. It's also able to hold down its prey of choice (stingrays) before eating them. The hammerhead protrusion includes the shark's nostrils, which are set farther apart on this fish than on other sharks. Scientists think the wide-set nostrils could help the shark sense its prey with more accuracy than other sharks because the distance between the nostrils helps the shark judge the direction of the scent.

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Bear

A brown, furry Kodiak grizzly bear standing at the water's edge.

Laura Hedien / Getty Images

A bear's snout doesn't look like anything special, but we're including it because beneath the average exterior is a sniffing mechanism that is seven times more powerful than that of a bloodhound and 2,100 times better than a human's. This carnivore has a limited amount of time to stock up on food before they hibernate, which means they'll use that sense of smell to their best advantage.