Perhaps no scent is more disgusting or revolting than death. Our bodies begin to decompose almost immediately after dying, and can start to smell within hours. It’s surprising that so few zombies films address this issue, because the aroma of rot and decay can be overwhelming! In addition to unchecked enzymes, intestinal bacteria, and various gases, a dead human body releases around 30 different chemical compounds; each with their own distinctive odors.
Our theory of zombie decay can only account for a brief, delayed onset when it comes to the biological inevitability of death. Eventually, even the living dead should be subject to the four stages of human decomposition. And the putrid stench of rotting zombies would give away their position almost immediately, eliminating many of those thrilling jump scares that have become a cornerstone of our favorite zombie films and television series throughout the years.
A research paper from McMaster University actually found that the corpses of animals, from insects to crustaceans, all emit the very same death stench as a warning signal to safeguard against disease contagion. Professor David Rollo explains this ancient and universal truth.
Recognizing and avoiding the dead could reduce the chances of catching the disease, or allow you to get away with just enough exposure to activate your immunity … As explained in our study, fatty acids—oleic or linoleic acids—are reliably and quickly released from the cells following death. Evolution appears to have favoured such clues because they were reliably associated with demise, and avoiding contagion and predation are rather critical to survival.
The discovery was made while studying the social behavior of cockroaches, who mark safe territory with pheromone odours. However, when the team extracted body juices from dead cockroaches, the insects would avoid those areas like the plague. By identifying these specific chemicals, the biologists found that most species recognize their dead in a very similar way.
Our brains are simply wired to avoid the dead, whether they’re zombies or otherwise. And one of those early warning signs is the nauseating stench of the undead. As this clinical research illustrates, specific chemicals send us a clear signal; stay away because your life is in danger!
There are many gruesome accounts regarding the pungent smell of the dead, from our first responders to morticians. But the evidence is clear; death smells revolting. It’s almost certain that you would smell a zombie from a mile away before you ever encountered them up close.
Is there some reason that the undead seem immune to this inevitable consequence of death? We’ll keep searching for answers! But in the meantime, we suggest you read the original press release “Biologists Discover “Death Stench” is a Universal Ancient Warning Signal” available online via McMaster University or ScienceDaily. Because what you don’t know can eat you!