Does it fart? Scientists want to know which animals pass gas
Published Friday, January 27, 2017 11:39AM EST
In an effort akin to the mapping the human genome, the global scientific community has banded together to answer a long-standing question about biodiversity: Does it fart?
It may sound like the sort of question a Grade 4 student would ask to derail a science lecture, but Dani Rabaiotti, a real-life zoologist with the Zoological Society of London, has embarked on the creation of an exhaustive list of animals that cut the proverbial cheese.
“As a zoologist we often get asked slightly strange questions about the animals we study,” Rabaiotti told CTV’s Your Morning on Friday. “I got asked, ‘Do snakes fart?’”
An expert in African wild dogs, Rabaiotti was stumped when a teenaged relative asked her the question. So she did what any good scientist would do: consult with her peers. Snake expert and Auburn University ecologist David Steen confirmed, albeit reluctantly, that the legless serpents do indeed pass gas.
@AlongsideWild a family member asked me the other day if snakes fart and i did not know the answer to their question. So do they?— Dani Rabaiotti (@DaniRabaiotti) January 8, 2017
<sigh> yes. https://t.co/Y2L00dcDZV— David Steen, Ph.D. (@AlongsideWild) January 8, 2017
A Google spreadsheet detailing the fart fact finding mission has since grown to include 81 entries ranging from seals, whose farts apparently smell like lutefisk, to giraffes, which, unfortunately for researchers, pass gas at the “face height of the average man.”
While there is some debate about what constitutes an actual fart, Rabaiotti’s open call for information has yielded some incredible and somewhat disturbing revelations about the animal kingdom.
Termites, for example, emit so much methane into the atmosphere that researchers say they may be a significant contributor to climate change.
“Termites like areas that don’t have a lot of forest, so as people are cutting down forest, we are getting more and more termites and that could be speeding up climate change,” said Rabaiotti.
Beaded lacewing larva, apparently, take a silent and deadly revenge on termite colonies by directing toxic toots in their direction, leaving them helplessly paralyzed for an easy meal.
“That’s pretty potent. But sadly nobody has actually found out what exact chemicals are in the mixture. It definitely has a big impact on termites,” said Rabaiotti.
The submissions have not been limited to land animals. Fish are said to pass gas to communicate, but the question of whether this counts as a true fart is subject to debate.
“They release air bubbles and that makes a sound and other fish can use that to find the fish and create a shoal (group of fish swimming together), which can protect them from predators,” said Rabaiotti. “But actually it comes from a different part of the fish. So it doesn’t come from the bum.”
Ripping one is actually a matter of life and death for a number of herbivore species, including rabbits and horses.
“They can build up a lot of gas, and if they can’t pass it, it can cause something called bloat,” said Rabaiotti. “It can cause them to die sadly. Farts are important in keeping animals alive.”
Perhaps most curious of all is the fact that birds have the anatomy to fart, but don’t really need to because of their diets. However, they are partial to making fart-like noises with their mouths.
“If you think you hear a parrot fart, it’s probably coming from the other end,” said Rabaiotti.
Her findings, unsurprisingly, have delighted science enthusiasts and flatulence fans alike, who are using the hashtag #DoesItFart to share their knowledge and reactions on social media.
#DoesItFart is only the latest in a string of spontaneously raunchy hashtags from the scientific community. #JunkOff took the internet by surprise with plenty of pictures comparing animal reproductive anatomy. #ButtOfWhat also recently challenged Twitter users to identify … well, butts.