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7 Animals That Smell Like Jelly Beans (Because It's National Jelly Bean Day)

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Mother Nature loves a joke. Marine invertebrates that literally puke their guts out at the slightest provocation and hippos that sweat sunscreen are just a few of her favorites. There are vultures that wear leggings made from their own poop. There are alarmingly large bugs that smell like cherry cola, and mammal butts that smell like French vanilla and buttered popcorn. (Go home, nature. You’re drunk.)

So is this the zoo or a candy factory? Your nose can’t tell the difference. These seven animals are olfactory dead ringers for Jelly Belly flavors.

1. BINTURONG (ARCTICTIS BINTURONG) // BUTTERED POPCORN

The back end of the binturong, or bearcat, is legendary. Not for its size, shape, or productivity, but because it smells remarkably like a movie theater lobby. The heavenly scent that wafts across a bearcat habitat originates right in its inhabitants’ anal glands. Like housecats, binturongs are highly territorial and use smell to stake out their turf, but that’s where the similarity ends. While cats will snuggle and rub affectionately to leave their calling cards, a binturong scent-marks by dragging its butt across every object and surface it can find.

2. YELLOW ANTS (LASIUS INTERJECTUS) // LEMON DROP

The yellow ant is kind of a two-for-one deal. Not only do these ants emit an unmistakably lemony aroma, but they also look like little tiny lemons. Or their gasters (behinds) do, anyway.

When a colony of yellow ants is disturbed, its members emit a defensive chemical that smells so much like lemons that some people call these insects citronella ants. If your backyard smells suspiciously like a lemonade stand and there are no enterprising children in sight, take a look—you may have ants.

3. SPADEFOOT TOAD (SPEA MULTIPLICATA) // PEANUT BUTTER

Oh, spadefoot toad, you incredible weirdo. Behind your bulging eyes and claw-tipped hind legs is a gentle soul, a soul that craves solitude. A soul that enjoys a good wallow in the mud. A soul—and a parotoid gland—that will secrete a peanut butter-scented substance that causes sneezing and burning eyes in anyone who touches you. You just want to be left alone, spadefoot toad. We understand.

NOTE: We realize that Peanut Butter is no longer part of Jelly Belly’s 50 Official Flavors collection, but it remains lodged in our memories, our taste buds, and our hearts.

4. AFRICANIZED HONEYBEE (APIS MELLIFERA SCUTELLATA) // TOP BANANA

Their sting is bananas. B-A-N-A-N-A-S.

Let’s rewind a moment: Bee communication is super complex, and ranges from adorable folk dances to hysteria-inducing chemical signals like the alarm pheromone. When a forager bee feels threatened, it sends the scent of fear out into the hive. Other bees pick up the chemical trail and pass along the message, spreading panic. Africanized bees are both more sensitive to the pheromone than their European cousins and produce more of it, which means more panic, which means more stinging. And what does this alarm pheromone smell like to humans? You guessed it: bananas.

5. CRESTED AUKLET (AETHIA CRISTATELLA) // TANGERINE

So far we’ve seen nutty amphibians, citrusy insects, and buttery mammal butts, but what about fruit-fragranced birds? Yeah, we’ve got those, too.

Crested auklets are so fragrant, wildlife biologist Julie Hagelin told Nature, that “it’s like somebody is peeling a tangerine next to you.” The auklets are the first birds known to signal through scent. The seabirds use their oily bills to apply fragrance to their feathers like humans applying perfume, hoping to attract a mate. Smell is such a turn-on for these birds that their greetings consist of sniffing each other’s neck feathers. Toucan Sam could not be reached for comment.

6. GIANT MILLIPEDE (APHELORIA VIRGINIENSIS) // CHERRY COLA

Giant millipedes are kind of scary. They are, as their name suggests, pretty big—some species can be more than 15 inches long—and they brew all manner of poisons when they’re upset. The American giant millipede (Narceus americanus) secretes a liquid that can cause dermatological burns. But maybe these bugs have a bad name. Sure, Apheloria virginiensis may release cyanide when it’s stressed, but it also “has a nice odor, like cherry cola.”

Again: we’ve strayed from the Jelly Belly top 50, but hear us out. Cherry cola jelly beans, while retired from the American J.B. roster, are still a thing in the UK.

7. BEAVER (GENUS CASTOR) // FRENCH VANILLA

In the science world, the vanilla-scented, molasses-like goo that comes out of a beaver’s butt is known as castoreum. In the world of food science, it’s known as “natural flavoring.” When the news hit a few years back that beaver bum-milk was a legal food additive, consumers hit the fan. Fortunately, milking a beaver bottom is a thankless job and the yield is low, which means that most food-grade vanilla flavoring comes from less extreme sources.

(Most of it.)

AND TWO ANIMALS THAT PROBABLY DON’T SMELL LIKE JELLYBEANS AT ALL:

The old trail wisdom goes that if you smell watermelons and you’re nowhere near a melon patch, rattlesnakes can’t be far away. This is not true. The misconception may have arisen from the Southern melon varietal known as the rattlesnake watermelon. When asked what the snakes do smell like, one experienced woodsman answered, “Rattlesnakes.”

And then there’s elephant pee, which allegedly smells like black licorice. There is no proof that this is true. There’s also no proof that it isn’t. The next time you encounter an elephant urine scholar (or a beaker of elephant urine), find out for yourself and send us an update.

All images courtesy of Thinkstock

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief

Fans of the romantic-comedy Love Actually recently got a bonus reunion in the form of Red Nose Day Actually, a short charity special that gave audiences a peek at where their favorite characters ended up almost 15 years later.

One of the most improbable pairings from the original film was between Jamie (Colin Firth) and Aurelia (Lúcia Moniz), who fell in love despite almost no shared vocabulary. Jamie is English, and Aurelia is Portuguese, and they know just enough of each other’s native tongues for Jamie to propose and Aurelia to accept.

A decade and a half on, they have both improved their knowledge of each other’s languages—if not perfectly, in Jamie’s case. But apparently, their love is much stronger than his grasp on Portuguese grammar, because they’ve got three bilingual kids and another on the way. (And still enjoy having important romantic moments in the car.)

In 2015, Love Actually script editor Emma Freud revealed via Twitter what happened between Karen and Harry (Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman, who passed away last year). Most of the other couples get happy endings in the short—even if Hugh Grant's character hasn't gotten any better at dancing.

[h/t TV Guide]

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