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Does It Fart?
The Definitive Field Guide to Animal Flatulence
By Nick Caruso
Formats and Prices
- ebook $9.99 $12.99 CAD
- Hardcover $17.00 $23.00 CAD
- Audiobook Download (Unabridged)
This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around April 3, 2018. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.
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Dogs do it. Millipedes do it. Dinosaurs did it. You do it. I do it. Octopuses don’t (and nor do octopi). Spiders might do it: more research is needed. Birds don’t do it, but they could if they wanted to. Herrings do it to communicate with each other.
In 2017 zoologist Dani Rabaiotti’s teenage brother asked her a most teenaged question: Do snakes fart? Stumped, Rabaiotti turned to Twitter. The internet did not disappoint. Her innocent question spawned the hashtag #doesitfart and it spread like a noxious gas. Dozens of noted experts began weighing in on which animals do and don’t fart, and if they do, how much, how often, what it’s made of, what it smells like, and why.
Clearly, the public demands more information on animal farts. Does it Fart? fills that void: a fully authoritative, fully illustrated guide to animal flatulence, covering the habits of 80 animals in more detail than you ever knew you needed.
What do hyena farts smell especially bad? What is a fossa, and does it fart? Why do clams vomit but not fart? And what is a fart, really? Pairing hilarious illustrations with surprisingly detailed scientific explanations, Does it Fart? will allow you to shift the blame onto all kinds of unlikely animals for years to come.
HOW THIS BOOK CAME ABOUT
Nick and Dani are both active on Twitter and use the social media platform to talk about their work and engage with other scientists. They are part of the large community of ecologists and zoologists on Twitter who share information, collaborate and engage in a lot of science communication. One fateful day Dani was asked by a family member whether snakes farted, but she was unsure of the answer. She knew someone, however, who would definitely know: David Steen, an Assistant Research Professor of Wildlife Ecology and Conservation at Auburn University, Alabama, and all-around snake expert. He answered, on Twitter, “<sigh> yes,” and from there, science Twitter quickly realized that actually “does it fart?” is a common question that animal researchers get asked: this in turn led Nick to create #DoesItFart and, in the true nature of science, this swiftly spawned a spreadsheet. Many science researchers and pet owners contributed to the spreadsheet: You can find a list of contributors and their Twitter handles here. Clearly the next step was a full guide in print, and so Does it Fart?, the book, was born.
WHAT IS A FART?
The medical term for a fart is “flatulence,” which is defined as “flatus expelled through the anus.” Flatus is strictly defined as gas produced during digestion—generally in the stomach and/or gut. Through this book Dani and Nick are taking part in flatology, or the study of flatulence, even though their main area of expertise is not in this field.
The word “fart” dates back to the fourteenth century, before the term flatulence came into use, and was used specifically to mean breaking wind loudly. Today the term fart is more commonly used to describe any gas expelled from the end of an animal that is opposite to its mouth—whether this be through the anus, cloaca or a specialized duct—and if it is audible or not. This, therefore, is the definition used throughout this book. So, although some of the farts in this book may not fit the strict medical definition of flatulence, they would generally be accepted as a fart to any human encountering them.
Not all farts are created equal, and the smell and frequency of flatus can vary based on an organism’s diet, health and gut flora. Vegetables and other food that are high in fiber, such as broccoli, beans or peas, dairy products containing lactose, foods that are high in starch or fructose and many others, have all been linked to increasing fart frequency in humans (and likely other animals too, though studies are limited). We all know the childhood song “Beans, beans, the musical fruit, the more you eat the more you toot,” similarly, food that is harder to digest for a particular organism and remains within their intestines for longer periods of time can also lead to increases in farting. While many farts are odorless, consisting primarily of carbon dioxide, food containing a higher concentration of sulfur, such as meats or Brussels sprouts, can lead to the production of hydrogen sulfide, which has a pungent rotten-egg smell. Parasitic infections, such as Giardiasis, other intestinal illnesses and food sensitivities can also lead to increases in flatus frequency or malodor—that is, having a bad smell. Whereas some individuals may simply harbor a greater concentration of gas-producing bacteria and other microorganisms within their intestines, collectively known as the intestinal or gut flora, and thus produce more gas.
Scientific Name (Genus): Clupea
DOES IT FART? YES
There are over 200 species of herring—fish species in the genus Clupea—worldwide, a couple of which have taken the art of farting to new depths. The Pacific and Atlantic herrings have both been found to gulp air from the surface of the water and store it in their swim bladders, later expelling it from their anal ducts in what is technically known as a Fast Repetitive Tick (FRT).
FRTs produce a “high-pitched raspberry sound” lasting between 0.6 and 7.6 seconds, at frequencies of between 1.7 and 22kHz. Herring, which have particularly good hearing compared to other fish species, produce FRTs more frequently when densities of herring are higher, and it is thought that they use FRTs to communicate with other members of their species. In this way, FRTs are used to find and stay close to other herring, especially at night when they can’t see each other; so these particularly gassy fish use farts to form shoals and stay safe from predators. You might think that these raspberry sounds would give away a herring’s location to hungry predators looking for a bite to eat, but, due to the high frequencies of the FRTs, they are above the auditory range of most predatory fishes—a secret fart-code that only other herring can hear. Most marine mammals (as well as humans!) can hear it though, and it is thought this might be how they locate herring to eat.
Scientific Name (Species): Capra aegagrus hircus
DOES IT FART? YES
Goats belong to the family Bovidae, which includes cows (here), meaning they have four stomachs packed full of methane-producing bacteria which help them digest plant material, and so give off a lot of gas in the process. Although this process produces far more burps than farts, goats do fart, and this combination makes them particularly gassy animals. In 2015, a plane full of over 2,000 goats on its way to Kuala Lumpur was forced to land unexpectedly after the fire alarm was set off by the copious amounts of gas produced by the goats on board.
Domestic goats, and their farts, have lived alongside humans for over 10,000 years, thanks to the goat’s hardy nature and milk production. One of the oldest surviving secular songs in the English language—“Sumer is icumen in,” which is about the sights and sounds of summer—includes the line “Bulluc sterteþ, bucke uerteþ,” which is thought to mean “Bullock leaps, billy-goat farts.” So it isn’t just goats that are culturally important, but their farts too.
SONORAN CORAL SNAKE
Scientific Name (Species): Micruroides euryxanthus
DOES IT FART? YES
This brightly colored, highly venomous snake species is relatively widely distributed and can be found across southern Arizona, parts of New Mexico, Sonora and the surrounding areas in Mexico. As with most venomous snakes, this species isn’t actually very keen on biting, instead it uses a highly unusual behavior as its first line of defense against predators. If threatened, the snake hides its head under its body, raises its tail and sucks air into its cloaca (the part of the body from which snakes defecate and urinate) before forcefully expelling it again. This emits a popping sound of around 2.5kHz, known as “cloacal popping.” These pops sound like a higher-pitched, shorter version of a human fart (see here) and can be heard from up to 2 meters away! Sadly, the effectiveness of this behavior at keeping predators at bay has never been measured, but between that, the bright colors and the venom, they seem to do fine.
Cloacal popping is relatively rare among snakes but it has also been observed in the Western hooknose snake, Gyalopion canum, which, when startled, simultaneously thrashes around and defecates while emitting cloacal pops. So really the Sonoran coral snake is positively polite in comparison…
Scientific Name (Genus): Papio
DOES IT FART? YES
The genus Papio, commonly known as baboons, is made up of five species found throughout Africa, as well as, in the case of the Hamadryas baboon (Papio hamadryas), parts of the Arabian peninsula. Baboons have been on the planet for at least two million years and are highly social, living in groups, known as troops, of up to 250 individuals (although generally group sizes are closer to 50 or so) with complex dominance dynamics regulating group life—dynamics in which farting can play an unexpectedly significant role. As with most primates, baboons fart often and unashamedly. When female baboons are in heat their sexual organs and rump swell up, indicating to males that they are ready to mate, and this reportedly makes any flatulence more potent, or potentially just more audible. And people say romance is dead!
Within a troop there are frequent fights between males and during a disagreement subordinate males will often flee from a dominant male, screaming, defecating and farting as they run. As with chimpanzees (here), researchers have been known to locate troops by listening out for their audible flatulence, something that is useful given that baboons are surprisingly good at disappearing into any nearby vegetation.
Scientific Name (Class): Diplopoda
DOES IT FART? YES
Millipedes get their scientific name Diplopoda from the fact that, unlike other arthropods, they have two pairs of legs on each segment of their body. Also unlike many other arthropod groups, millipedes have a very simple digestive system which lacks a pouch in their hind-gut for food storage. This means food passes through millipedes quickly and so must be broken down as fast as possible. To help, millipede intestines contain a type of organism called methanogenic archaea—single-celled microbes which assist in breaking down their food (mostly rotting wood and leaf litter), producing methane in the process.
Different species of millipede have different types of archaea in their gut, and methane production is positively correlated with body mass—that is, the bigger the millipede, the bigger the farts. As with many other groups of insects, millipedes living in the tropics are bigger than those living in temperate climates, therefore tropical species tend to produce more gas. The biggest species of millipede—the Giant African millipede, Archispirostreptus gigas—can grow up to 38 centimeters long, with about 256 legs, and lives (and, we assume, farts) mainly in the lowland forests of East Africa.
Scientific Name (Species): Lomamyia latipennis
DOES IT FART? YES
There are hundreds of species of the little winged insects called beaded lacewings, and very little is known about their biology, especially at the larval stage. What is known about this incredibly understudied taxon, however, is that it is found on every continent except Antarctica. If that distribution sounds familiar, it is because it is shared by another insect species, the termite (here). A number of beaded lacewing species have been found to have a larval stage which live in close association with termites. The adult beaded lacewing lays her eggs on rotting wood next to a termite nest and the larvae hatch out and proceed to sneak into, and live inside, the nest, preying on the workers in a variety of gruesome ways.
One species, Lomamyia latipennis, has a particularly ingenious way of stunning and killing its prey: it farts on them. The larva raises its tail toward the termite’s head and releases a potent allomone (a chemical that affects termite behavior) which paralyzes the termite and, ultimately, kills it. This allomone does not affect any other species of insect, or the larva itself, so this species of lacewing has evolved to produce a very specific chemical fart perfectly designed for its larval life inside the nest of its prey, one of the very few genuinely fatal farts known to science.
Scientific Name (Species): Equus ferus caballus
DOES IT FART? YES
- "Finally, there's a book about which animals fart."—Gizmodo
- "A very necessary book."—New York Post
- "A book everyone can enjoy."—Cheezburger
- "Appropriately titled."—BuzzFeed
- "The only book on animal flatulence you'll ever need."—The Telegraph (UK)
- "Answers the important questions."—Popular Mechanics
- "It's time to embrace both your scientific curiosity and your inner 10-year-old."—CNet
- "The book is jam-packed with Fart Facts, giving time to the farters, the non-farters, and those where the fart-jury is still out.... Does It Fart? is the sort of book that reaches everyone."—ScientificAmerican.com
- "The topic of flatulence is richer and more varied than readers might expect.... Cheeky illustrations by Ethan Kocak add to the book's general irreverence... The book now occupies a place of honor in my house, next to the toilet, where it is always on call to satisfy the curiosity of my lucky guests when they need a bit of bathroom reading."—Katie L. Burke, American Scientist
- "Does It Fart? clearly makes the perfect gift for animal lovers, science geeks, and fart-obsessed teenage boys. Sniff one out for the special stinker in your life now."—People.com
- "Each page of the book is devoted to one animal and one question: 'Does it fart?'.... But the book isn't just bathroom humor. Written by a pair of wildlife biologists, Does It Fart? cleanly explains the science of digestion and fascinating aspects of animal behavior. (Did you know manatees hold on to their farts to remain buoyant in the water?) In all, the book helps you appreciate the diverse ways wildlife has evolved to deal with passing gas."—Vox, "Gift Guide for Science Lovers"
- On Sale
- Apr 3, 2018
- Page Count
- 144 pages
- Hachette Books