Binturong Urine Smells Like Hot Buttered Popcorn

Posted on April 14, 2016

Binturongs are a shaggy-haired creature from Southeast Asia. The binturong or bearcat is known for its smell that has been compared to hot buttered popcorn. Scientists have determined that this scent comes from a compound in binturong pee.

The researchers say in the announcement, "Most people have never heard of a binturong, let alone caught a whiff of one up close. But for many zookeepers, the smell wafting from the binturong enclosure is so striking that they name their resident binturongs after the popular snack."

The scientists analyzed binturong urine and found 29 different chemical compounds. One of the compounds - 2-acetyl-1-pyrroline, or 2-AP - is the same compound that gives popcorn its strong smelling and enticing scent. The compound also lingers in the binturong pee and it becomes stronger over time. The researchers discovered this trait when a rush airmail shipment of frozen binturong urine was delayed on a hot tarmac en route to co-author Thomas Goodwin of Hendrix College in Arkansas for analysis.

The researchers believe 2-AP is produced when binturong urine comes in contact with bacteria and other microorganisms that live on the animal's skin or fur or in its gut. The compound is found in greater abundance in males than females. The animals pee in a squatting position and it soaks into their tails and feet. Binturongs then leave the scent behind them as their bushy urine covered tails touch leaves and branches. The researchers think the solitary animals that rarely encounter each other use the strong scent for communication.

Lydia Greene, a graduate student at Duke University and first author of the research study, says in a statement, "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."

A research paper on binturong pee was published here in the journal, The Science of Nature.

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