IN his excellent novel, Perfume, Patrick Suskind wrote, “Odours have a power of persuasion stronger than that of words, appearances, emotions or will”.

I was reminded of his observation last week while walking through the beautiful Fryton Wood near Hovingham.

My nostrils were charmed and assaulted in quick succession, first by the sweet and heady perfume of a late honeysuckle flower then, as I inhaled deeply to maximise the pleasure, I was hit by a sting in the tail.

Somewhere nearby (I never found out exactly where) a stinkhorn fungus was “ripe”, meaning that it had covered its surface with a spore-containing slime reeking of decaying flesh.

This concoction is irresistible to flies who cover themselves in the stuff then fly away, thus spreading the spores of the stinkhorn – clever, but not as nice as honeysuckle perfume.

Herr Suskind’s quote was referring to the relatively poor olfactory sense of humans, but in many areas of the natural world his statement is even more the case, especially in animals where smell is the dominant sense.

If someone were to ask us to name an animal with a good sense of smell, most would plump for our old friend the dog, and with good cause; the olfactory sense in the average domestic dog is about a hundred thousand times better than ours,

and in some breeds like the bloodhound, bred specifically for their sense of smell, several million times better.

No wild mammals in our neck of the woods come within a sniff of a dog’s performance, except foxes of course, but then they are very closely related. Even badgers and hedgehogs are only 800 times better than us.

There are two residents of Ryedale, though, that are challengers for the overall title; one is a fish and the other a humble moth. For years it was a mystery how salmon managed to find their way from the deep ocean back to the exact river tributary of their birth.

Recent research has revealed that they do it by smell and are able to detect home river chemicals in the water at a dilution of one part per 80 billion.

The first fish of the River Rye autumn run are probably doing it now as you read this, sniffing their way round Spurn Point and into the Humber estuary following heaven-knows what chemicals in the water.

For the next few weeks they will follow the trail upstream past Hull, and at every branch in the river will choose the water containing their magic chemical.

At Trent Falls our fish will turn right up the Ouse, rejecting the River Trent, patiently wait for the River Derwent barrage to open and allow them up to Malton and beyond.

Near Wykeham they will ignore the main flow and turn left into the River Rye then keep going until they reach the exact tributary they started life in as an egg – incredible.

We know exactly what chemical the male emperor moth gets very excited about, it’s decenyl methylbutanate, or essence of female emperor moth to you and me.

She releases this sex pheromone into the air over heather moors, such as those at Spaunton or Levisham, and he follows the trail from up to three miles away back to her.

To accomplish this amazing feat he requires some specialist equipment.

Moths don’t have internal noses ladened with nerve endings like us, but two super-sensitive external structures called antennae.

To increase their pheromone catching surface area these antennae have hundreds of small side branches giving them a feather-like appearance and enabling them to detect a single molecule of pheromone on the breeze – now that’s what I call a good sense of smell.