Deadpoet's picture

Smell of 'moth-balls'

Observed: 21st October 2012 By: Deadpoet

While walking in hornbeam coppice in the Colne Valley (nr Colchester), I was stopped short by the distinct odour of moth-balls in a very local area- my companion did the same quite independently of me. No obvious source was evident. I encountered it again at the edge of old pasture when walking a couple of days later in Surrey. Both places were 'clean' environments, so surely a natural source....fungal?


No identification made yet.

Species interactions

No interactions present.


markwilson's picture


Found this on internet - have no sense of smell myself but do remember some strong fungfal smells inthe past

hfraser02026's picture

Some mothballs are made from

Some mothballs are made from cedar wood- any cedar trees nearby?

Amadan's picture

That's a good thought -

The fragrant components of cedar oil are a different type of cyclic compound, but both they and the terpenes found in other conifers smell rather similar to naphthalenes at low concentrations.
That's another facet of odours - they change dramatically depending on concentration. You only have to walk around the Tees estuary (where there is a flavours and fragrances mixing plant) to realise this - concentrated coffee extract is, even to a serious caffeine abuser like me, really very unpleasant!
Note - this comment was added before the one below.

Amadan's picture

Mystery odour

The chemical in moth-balls is/was naphthalene, a complex aromatic (ring-structure) hydrocarbon. Other polycyclic aromatics smell quite similar, and these can come from a variety of sources.
"Wildlife" sources are said to include some flowers (e.g. magnolia), some deer species, and fungi.
It is also possible that the source is industrial (petrochemical plant, landfill site, etc.) The odours from these can sometimes be sensed a considerable distance away, especially if meteorological conditions - such as a temperature inversion - are favourable.
Finally, the sense of smell is rather odd: it "tires" quickly when exposed to a particular odour, but also "heightens" in the absence of significant smells. So the detectability of trace amounts of an odorous compound also depends on the immediate environment.

hfraser02026's picture

Very interesting, I didn't

Very interesting, I didn't know that. Thanks for the info !