The title of this post is not a joke. The enigmatic bearcat, also known as a "binturong," is a non-bear non-cat mammal that vaguely looks like a badger with a prehensile tail. Among its laundry list of odd traits, perhaps the strangest is that this Southeast Asian mammal smells like buttered popcorn. It leaves a movie-theater odor everywhere it goes by peeing luxuriously on its legs and tail, then shuffling along in the underbrush and in the trees. And "buttered popcorn binturong" isn't the simile of a single scientist stretching for a cool headline; nay! The binturong has prompted comparisons to popcorn time and time and time again. Sound crazy?
At last, researchers from Duke University have found a chemical commonality.
2-acetyl-1-pyrroline (2-AP) is the chemical compound that gives popcorn its characteristic scent, and -- as it turns out-- is found in potent concentrations in bearcat urine. You'll also find 2-AP in bread flowers, as well as in popular foods such as white bread and basmati rice.
But bread, rice, and popcorn all emit 2-AP after being cooked. How can bearcats produce a compound that usually requires seriously high temperatures to be made? These researchers suggest that bacteria interact with compounds in bearcat urine to produce the final popcorn-y product. Yet again, bacteria prove the butler in this murder mystery.
Can't get enough of binturongs? Check out Wired Magazine's Creature Feature, entitled "how can it binturong when it feels so right?"
A shy, shaggy-haired animal from Southeast Asia forever smells like hot buttered popcorn, and now new research reveals why. The animal, known as a bearcat or binturong, naturally produces the exact same compound that gives popcorn its tantalizing aroma. The findings are publishing in the latest issue of the journal Naturwissenschaften (The Science of Nature). “The fact that the compound was in every binturong we studied, and at relatively high concentrations, means it could be a signal that says, ‘A binturong was here,’ and whether it was male or female,” co-author Lydia Greene, a graduate student at Duke University, said in a press release. In short, the smell is probably just as enticing to bearcats as it is to hungry humans at a movie theater.