Bearcats Have A Uniquely Familiar Scent

Just about everyone is familiar with the scent of popcorn. Especially the very specific popcorn scent that comes from the lobby of a movie theater. People haven't been able to get enough of the stuff at events for over one hundred years. According to Smithsonian Magazine, Charles Cretor invented the first steam-powered popcorn maker in 1885, and it quickly became a hit at a multitude of events, including movie screenings.

It turns out that movie theater lobbies aren't the only place where one can find the scent of buttery popcorn. Zoo keepers and animal caregivers are all too familiar with the smell as it always surrounds one furry friend — the bearcat, or binturong. According to the San Diego Zoo website, these fluffy pals smell just like freshly popped popcorn, even when there is no popcorn to be found. Popcorn is a weird thing for an animal to smell like, especially one that doesn't spend much time in a movie theater. Scientists' curiosities on the topic led to some research into why exactly these animals smell like your favorite theater.

Binturongs smell like freshly popped buttered popcorn. But why?

Binturongs spread their buttery popcorn scent by soaking their feet in it and dragging their tails through it. The search for a reason as to why binturongs smell like buttered popcorn led researchers to the Carolina Tiger Rescue in Pittsboro, North Carolina, where 33 urine samples were collected and tested (per Springer Link).

Different chemical compounds in the urine were isolated, and one compound, in particular, is the culprit behind the smell of the binturong. That compound is 2-acetyl-1-pyrroline, or 2-AP. This compound is something that most people have smelled before, as it's the same one that forms during the popping process of buttered popcorn. According to the same article in Springer Link, 2-AP is a heat-activated scent that lingers longer than other scents.

Scientists believe that the scent is meant to assist the binturongs in finding a mate. However, when they tried to find out just what makes the bearcat's urine smell like buttered popcorn, no one source could be pinned down.

Binturongs smell like popcorn but don't eat it

While it's fun to think that binturongs smell like fresh popcorn because they eat a lot of it, they're actually carnivores. However, they're also known to indulge in their fair share of fruits and veggies. In addition, these adorable creatures help the forests they call home by spreading seeds and replanting trees, though they're currently listed as both a vulnerable and endangered species (depending on the region) due to habitat destruction, according to the San Diego Zoo.

Since the bearcat and popcorn share the same compound, 2-AP, they both share another special trait — providing generally positive feelings to those who smell them. According to WebMD, "When an odor is paired with an emotional event, perception of that odor is altered to fit that association." This could be the reason why so many people associate the smell of buttered popcorn with happy feelings, as it's most commonly served at movie theaters and events explicitly made for fun, where people tend to have fond memories. So it's no wonder the smell of a bearcat doesn't seem to be bothering anyone. It's just another positive association added to the list of reasons to love the scent of popcorn.