Why are pigs so good at finding truffles?

Sows have long been associated with truffle hunting. Yet it isn’t clear what makes them good at rooting out the subterranean fruiting bodies of these fungi. Truffles have a distinctive smell, but pigs must be attracted by more than just appreciation of the aroma.

For many years the prospect of sex was thought to tempt them. That’s because some truffle species produce androstenol, a pheromone-like hormone found in the testes of boars (as well as humans). That theory, however, was undermined by French chemist Thierry Talou. He buried samples of androstenol, fresh truffles and a synthetic cocktail of aroma-causing chemicals and let some sows loose. Surprisingly, the pigs skipped the androstenol and went for the other two options.

Whatever it is that attracts sows, though, is too strong for them to resist. Many truffle-hunters have replaced pigs with trained dogs that don’t eagerly gobble up the fungal delicacies they find.