When I first saw the headline of a Duke University press release earlier this week, “Why Bearcats Smell Like Buttered Popcorn,” I had an understandable reaction: Wait, what? There’s an animal that smells like buttered popcorn? Why didn’t anyone tell me?
The bearcat, for bearcat-neophytes such as myself, is a “shy, shaggy-haired creature from Southeast Asia” that is also known as the binturong. I had hoped the answer to the question hinted at in the headline would be “Because bearcats produce a steady supply of hot buttered popcorn,” or “Because bearcats are notorious popcorn-thieves that sneak into movie theaters and burgle great quantities of the stuff.” Alas, the truth is slightly less exciting: Bearcat pee, a group of researchers found in a paper published in a journal called The Science of Nature — Naturwissenschaften, contains a compound called “2-acetyl-1-pyrroline, or 2-AP – the same compound that gives popcorn its tantalizing scent.”
Having sucked me in by promising to answer an intriguing, mouthwatering question about a species I didn’t even know existed, the press release proceeded to teach me more than I ever wanted to know about bearcat urination: “Binturongs pee in a squatting position, soaking their feet and bushy tails in the process. They also drag their tails as they move about in the trees, leaving a scent trail on the branches and leaves behind them.” Researchers think the scent serves as a signal to other bearcats along the lines of Hey, it’s me — I am nearby. Also I am a [male/female].
The other important thing I learned about bearcats in my Friday knowledge-quest is that they are very cute, as proven by this YouTube video with weirdly porny music:
So, in summation: There is a shy, cute animal that pees all over itself, and its pee smells like buttered popcorn. I don’t know what you’re smoking, evolution, but I’d like to purchase some.