A Few Facts About Bearcats

Posted: November 18, 2019 in Animals, Fun Facts, Nature, Things I Love
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For readers of Shoe: Untied that are from areas other than Southern Ohio, the mascot of the local school where I taught and coached for many years is a Bearcat. I actually wrote about our mascot in a blog entitled The Origin of the Bearcats and the Black & Gold. However, do any of you know what a Bearcat actually is? Let’s take a gander . . .

An actual Bearcat is a glorious creature. It has a body like a small bear and a tail like a monkey, not even kidding. It’s scientific name is Binturong, which is cool but not nearly as cool as Bearcat. They have long, low, stocky bodies covered with coarse, shaggy black fur tipped in gray, so they sometimes appear speckled. Long ear tufts protrude from their small, rounded ears. Just look at that guy on the right. Their faces have slightly lighter fur and stiff, white whiskers that can reach up to 8-inches long. They grow to be about 6-feet long including the tail and weigh between 25 and 50 pounds.

Binturongs live in the dense tropical rainforests of Southeast Asia and are not often spotted in the wild. They’re currently classified as vulnerable, with populations declining more than 30% over the past 30 years. The main threats to binturongs are habitat destruction, hunting, and the wildlife trade, and that’s just sad. Save the Binturong, man!

Their secretive nature has kept many aspects of their behavior hidden until recently, but my crack staff here at Shoe: Untied has unearthed some fascinating nuggets for your perusal. Read on for my list of facts that make the Bearcats a weird, awesome and wonderful animal . . .

1. Although the Binturong is also known as the Bearcat, it’s not closely related to bears or cats. The Binturong belongs to the Viverridae family, an ancient group of small to medium sized mammals found only in the eastern hemisphere. A bunch of them live in Vietnam.

2. The meaning of the word Binturong is unknown. The language it was derived from is now extinct. That means it goes waaaaay back.

3. Binturongs are in the order Carnivora, but they mostly eat fruit. In the wild, they eat a varied diet which can include carrion, eggs, plant shoots and leaves, small invertebrates, fish, birds, small mammals, and fruits like the strangler fig. In captivity, a Binturong could enjoy dog food, leaf-eater biscuits, ground meat, carrots, yams, tomatoes, apples, bananas, and their favorite, grapes.

4. They smell like buttered popcorn. True story. Like other members of the Viverridae family, the Binturong has scent glands, which are located just under its tail. As it moves about, the Binturong drags its tail, marking branches and foliage in its territory. To humans, the smell is reminiscent of buttered popcorn, but to other Binturongs it communicates that the area is occupied and they should move along. It can also help male and female Binturongs find each other when they want to mate. Cool.

5. Binturongs make lots of noises to communicate. A happy Binturong will chuckle (seriously), but an irritated one will utter a high-pitched wail or growl fiercely, sort of like Monica, a girl I dated in college. On the prowl, it may periodically produce a series of low grunts or a hissing sound made by expelling air through its partially opened lips, also reminiscent of Monica. A female Binturong in the mood for love will purr. Again . . . never mind.

6. Binturongs live high in the forest canopy and rarely come down to the ground. They are excellent climbers, moving slowly and cautiously through tree branches, aided by strong feet with semi-retractable claws. Their hind legs can even rotate backwards so their claws still have a good grip when climbing down a tree head-first. Due to their large size, Binturongs cannot leap between trees; they must climb down to the ground to move from one tree to another. Binturongs even sleep high in tree branches, curling up with their heads tucked under their tails.

7. They have prehensile tails. The Binturong is the only Old World mammal and one of only two carnivores (the other is the kinkajou) with a prehensile tail. Its tail is almost as long as its body and acts like another limb when climbing. At the tip of the tail is a leathery patch for extra traction when gripping branches. The binturong’s tail might be its most important climbing tool. Even when sleeping, its tail is anchored securely around a branch.

8. They walk like bears. Binturongs walk flat-footed, like bears and you and I. This results in an ambling, side-to-side gait. A strut if you will. Bearcats are cool.

9. Females can delay implantation of an embryo. Binturongs mate throughout the year, yet most births occur between January and March. Scientists think this means Binturongs are one of the approximately 100 mammal species capable of delayed implantation. Say whu-u-u-u-u-t? This allows them to mate whenever they encounter a male, but time the birth of their young to a season with favorable environmental conditions. Bearcats can control when they give birth. That’s wild, man.

10. Binturongs have a special relationship with the strangler fig. Binturongs play an important role in their rainforest habitats by spreading the seeds from the fruits they eat in their droppings. This is especially true for seeds of the strangler fig, which cannot germinate without assistance. The Binturong is one of only two known animals with digestive enzymes capable of softening the tough outer covering of the fig’s seeds. This special relationship makes the Binturong a keystone species in the rainforest ecosystem.

And finally, get this – Bearcats have 5 toes. This means all those paws you see on our school’s walls, shirts and other logos are wrong. The paw prints actually look this:

We need to fix this. It’s not too late, people!

Gimme a holler.

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