Researchers have finally answered one of the most pressing questions in modern science: why bearcats smell like buttered popcorn (hint: it’s the urine).
When nature employs smell, they’re either really nice or really bad, and it happens for a good reason: to lure things or to repel them away. But for bearcats, it’s quite a peculiar case, as their smell is rather… intriguing.
A joint team from several universities gave 33 bearcats routine physical examinations at the Carolina Tiger Rescue, a wildlife sanctuary in North Carolina. They took samples from the animals, including urine samples. The urine was analyzed with gas chromatography-mass spectrometry, an instrumental technique through which complex mixtures of chemicals may be separated, identified and quantified.
They distinguished 29 compounds, and one of these compounds was 2-acetyl-1-pyrroline (2-AP) – the very same chemical that gives buttered popcorn its unique smell. Just to make it clear, it’s not something that smells the same as buttered popcorn – it’s the same thing as buttered popcorn!
Researchers are not really sure how this happens without the very hot temperatures, but they have a hunch it could be caused by the bacteria the mammals have on their fur. As to why they’re doing this… it’s anyone’s guess.
Bearcats are mammals native to South and Southeast Asia. They spend most of their time in the foothills and hills with good tree cover. So if you find yourself in that area and feel a sudden smell of buttered popcorn… you’re probably surrounded by urine. I love nature.