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Extinction Stench

June 12, 2007

A listener asks: Did the dinosaur extinction stink?


Putting the stink in extinction. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Listener Becky Tillman of Charlotte, North Carolina, emailed to ask if the dinosaur extinction stank and if there’s any smell left over.

JERRY HARRIS (Dixie State College):
I honestly can’t say I’ve heard that one before!

That’s fast-talkin’ paleontologist Jerry Harris of Dixie State College in Utah. He says some scientists think the extinction took place quickly—over a few months or years.

If this is correct, then yes, there would be, in many places, big masses of steaming, rotting, dead things decaying and giving off quite a stench. Actually, the extinction at the end of the Cretaceous was heaviest in the oceans, and the stench would have been really bad at the shore. Either way, the bacteria responsible for breaking down and recycling the stuff bodies are made of are really pretty efficient…

…which, he says, is why people who dig up dead dinos aren’t assaulted by smell.

If you’ve got a science question, call us at 1-800-why-isit. If we use it, you’ll win a Science Update mug. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.