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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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How Bats Protect Rare Books at This Portuguese Library
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Visit the Joanina Library at the University of Coimbra in Portugal at night and you might think the building has a bat problem. It's true that common pipistrelle bats live there, occupying the space behind the bookshelves by day and swooping beneath the arched ceilings and in and out of windows once the sun goes down, but they're not a problem. As Smithsonian reports, the bats play a vital role in preserving the institution's manuscripts, so librarians are in no hurry to get rid of them.

The bats that live in the library don't damage the books and, because they're nocturnal, they usually don't bother the human guests. The much bigger danger to the collection is the insect population. Many bug species are known to gnaw on paper, which could be disastrous for the library's rare items that date from before the 19th century. The bats act as a natural form of pest control: At night, they feast on the insects that would otherwise feast on library books.

The Joanina Library is famous for being one of the most architecturally stunning libraries on earth. It was constructed before 1725, but when exactly the bats arrived is unknown. Librarians can say for sure they've been flapping around the halls since at least the 1800s.

Though bats have no reason to go after the materials, there is one threat they pose to the interior: falling feces. Librarians protect against this by covering their 18th-century tables with fabric made from animal skin at night and cleaning the floors of guano every morning.

[h/t Smithsonian]

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Honey Bees Can Understand the Concept of Zero
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The concept of zero—less than one, nothing, nada—is deceptively complex. The first placeholder zero dates back to around 300 BCE, and the notion didn’t make its way to Western Europe until the 12th century. It takes children until preschool to wrap their brains around the concept. But scientists in Australia recently discovered a new animal capable of understanding zero: the honey bee. According to Vox, a new study finds that the insects can be taught the concept of nothing.

A few other animals can understand zero, according to current research. Dolphins, parrots, and monkeys can all understand the difference between something and nothing, but honey bees are the first insects proven to be able to do it.

The new study, published in the journal Science, finds that honey bees can rank quantities based on “greater than” and “less than,” and can understand that nothing is less than one.

Left: A photo of a bee choosing between images with black dots on them. Right: an illustration of a bee choosing the image with fewer dots
© Scarlett Howard & Aurore Avarguès-Weber

The researchers trained bees to identify images in the lab that showed the fewest number of elements (in this case, dots). If they chose the image with the fewest circles from a set, they received sweetened water, whereas if they chose another image, they received bitter quinine.

Once the insects got that concept down, the researchers introduced another challenge: The bees had to choose between a blank image and one with dots on it. More than 60 percent of the time, the insects were successfully able to extrapolate that if they needed to choose the fewest dots between an image with a few dots and an image with no dots at all, no dots was the correct answer. They could grasp the concept that nothing can still be a numerical quantity.

It’s not entirely surprising that bees are capable of such feats of intelligence. We already know that they can count, teach each other skills, communicate via the “waggle dance,” and think abstractly. This is just more evidence that bees are strikingly intelligent creatures, despite the fact that their insect brains look nothing like our own.

Considering how far apart bees and primates are on the evolutionary tree, and how different their brains are from ours—they have fewer than 1 million neurons, while we have about 86 billion—this finding raises a lot of new questions about the neural basis of understanding numbers, and will no doubt lead to further research on how the brain processes concepts like zero.

[h/t Vox]

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