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Scientists Explain Why Bearcats Smell Like Buttered Popcorn

Apr 15, 2016 05:11 AM EDT
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Many have wondered why bearcats smell like buttered popcorn. Well, scientists explain that bearcat pee and popcorn both contain a chemical compound called 2-acetyl-1-pyrroline or 2-AP, which is the cause of that buttery aroma.
(Photo : Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

If you're in the mountains and you suddenly recognize the smell of buttered popcorns, chances are, a bearcat is nearby. Many have wondered why bearcats smell like buttered popcorn. Well, scientists explain that bearcat pee and popcorn both contain a chemical compound called 2-acetyl-1-pyrroline or 2-AP, which is the cause of that buttery aroma.

Bearcats or binturongs are a member of the civet family, a nocturnal mammal found in Asia and Africa.

A report said researchers at Duke University analyzed urine samples from bearcats in a wildlife sanctuary in Pittsboro, North Carolina. They found out that 2-AP or the 2-acetyl-1-pyrroline is the compound responsible for emitting the buttery popcorn aroma. The 2-AP compound can also be found in freshly made movie popcorns.

"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," said Lydia Greene, researcher at Duke University.

In a press release from Duke University, the researchers explained how they were able to answer the question why bearcats smell like popcorn. The answer was derived after using the method called gas chromatography-mass spectrometry. In the process, they indentified 29 compounds in the bearcat's urine. One of the most noteworthy is 2-AP, which is "the same compound that gives popcorn its tantalizing scent."

According to the same report, the male bearcats have a tendency to emit more 2-AP compound, causing a more noticeable scent.

In an interview with Science Daily, Christine Drea, a professor of evolutionary anthropology at Duke said, "How does this animal make a cooking smell, but without cooking?" Researchers considered the food binturongs eat, but it didn't explain the phenomena. They said, a more likely explanation is that their urine comes in contact with microorganisms present in the mammal's genitalia, skin, fur or gut. That's what probably triggers the release of the buttered popcorn aroma.

Meanwhile, The Science of Nature said that the bearcat pee, which smells like buttered popcorn, is far more significant to the mammals other than just the eccentric smell. Researchers believe that the smell is vital to bearcat's sex and reproductive behavior.

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