NYT: One of the odder things about perfumes is how much they have depended over the centuries on the scent of other animals — for instance, ambergris, a fatty excretion of the sperm whale, or the musk from the anal sacs of a civet. In concentration, some of these scents are unpleasant, even noxious. One component of civet is skatole, literally the smell of animal feces. Why not just make up a cologne called “Hyraceum — the Ultimate Code of Seduction,” advertised in a suitably libidinous whisper? The fine print would reveal that Hyraceum comes from the petrified excrement of the Cape hyrax. (Oh, but it turns out Hyraceum actually exists, at a very reasonable $60 an ounce.)

We are by no means the only species trying to smell like something (anything) other than ourselves. The caterpillar of South Africa’s Zulu Blue butterfly, for instance, mimics the chemical scent that the ants use to recognize their own brood. So the gullible ants carry the caterpillar into their nest, and don’t seem to notice when it proceeds to devour the very ant brood it has been mimicking.

Orchids are also wicked olfactory deceivers. They need to attract wasps, bees and other insects to spread their pollen. So some orchid species have evolved the shape and coloration of specific female insects — and also release chemicals that duplicate the come-hither perfume of the females they mimic.