7 Fast Facts About Animal Farting

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Anyone who’s had a pet can testify that dogs and cats occasionally get gassy, letting rip noxious farts and then innocently looking up as if to say “Who, me?” You may not have considered the full breadth of animal life passing gas in the world, though—and not just mammals. In a new book, ecologist Nick Caruso and zoologist Dani Rabaiotti detail the farting habits (or lack thereof) of 80 different animals. Here are seven weird animal farting facts we learned from Does It Fart?.

1. FOR ONE FISH, FARTING IS AN EMERGENCY.

Ethan Kocak

The diet of the Bolson pupfish, a freshwater fish found in northern Mexico, can lead to dangerous levels of gas. The pupfish feeds on algae, and it can inadvertently eat the gas bubbles that algae produces in warm temperatures. The air inflates the fish’s intestines and distends its belly, messing with its equilibrium and making it difficult to swim. Even if it tries to bury itself in sediment at the bottom of a pool, as Bolson pupfish are wont to do, the air causes the fish to rise to the surface, where it’s at risk of being eaten by a bird. If the fish doesn’t fart, it will likely die, either from predation or because its intestines rupture under the pressure of the trapped gas.

2. MANATEES USE FARTS AS A SWIMMING TECHNIQUE.

The Bolson pupfish isn't the only animal that needs healthy farts to maneuver underwater. Buoyancy is vital for swimming manatees, and they rely on digestive gas to keep them afloat. The West Indian manatee has pouches in its intestines where it can store farty gasses. When they have a lot of gas stored up, they’re naturally more buoyant, floating to the surface of the water. When they fart out that gas, they sink. Unfortunately, that means that a manatee’s ability to fart is vital to its well-being. When a manatee is constipated and can’t pass gas properly, it can lose the ability to swim properly and end up floating around with its tail above its head.

3. TERMITE FARTS ARE A SIGNIFICANT SOURCE OF GLOBAL EMISSIONS.

Ethan Kocak

They’re not as bad as cars or cows, but termites fart a lot, and because they are so numerous, that results in a lot of methane. Each termite only lets rip about half a microgram of methane gas a day, but every termite colony is made up of millions of individuals, and termites live all over the world. All told, the insects produce somewhere between 5 and 19 percent of global methane emissions per year.

4. FERRETS ARE SURPRISED BY THEIR OWN FARTS.

Ferrets are quite the fart machines. They not only let ‘em rip while pooping—which they do every few hours on a normal day—but they get particularly gassy when they’re stressed. The pungent smells are often news to their creators, though. According to the book, “owners often report a confused look on their pet’s face in the direction of their backside after they audibly pass gas.” And you don't want your ferret to get really scared: Their fear response involves screaming, puffing up, and simultaneous farting and pooping.

5. A BEADED LACEWING’S FARTS CAN BE DEADLY.

Ethan Kocak

A winged insect known as the beaded lacewing carries a powerful weapon within its butt, what Caruso and Rabaiotti call “one of the very few genuinely fatal farts known to science.” As a hunting strategy, Lomamyia latipennis larvae release a potent fart containing the chemical allomone, paralyzing and killing their termite prey.

6. WHALE FARTS MAKE QUITE THE SPLASH.

Ethan Kocak

As befits their size, whales produce some of biggest farts on the planet. A blue whale’s digestive system can hold up to a ton of food in its multiple stomach chambers, and there are plenty of bacteria in that system waiting to break that food down. This, of course, leads to farts. While not many whale farts have been caught on camera, scientists have witnessed them—and report them to be “incredibly pungent,” as Rabaiotti and Caruso tell it.

7. NOT ALL ANIMALS FART.

Octopuses don’t fart, nor do other sea creatures like soft-shell clams or sea anemones. Birds don’t, either. Meanwhile, sloths may be the only mammal that doesn’t fart, according to the book (although the case for bat farts is pretty tenuous). Having a belly full of trapped gas is dangerous for a sloth. If things are working normally, the methane produced by their gut bacteria is absorbed into their bloodstream and eventually breathed out.

The woodlouse has an odd way of getting rid of gas, too, though it’s technically not flatulence. Instead of peeing, woodlice excrete ammonia through their exoskeleton, with bursts of these full-body “farts” lasting up to an hour at a time.

Hachette Books

Does It Fart? is available for $15 from Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

Amazon's Under-the-Radar Coupon Page Features Deals on Home Goods, Electronics, and Groceries

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Stock Catalog, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

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Why Do Prunes Make You Poop?

nata_vkusidey/iStock via Getty Images
nata_vkusidey/iStock via Getty Images

Elsewhere in the world, prunes occupy the head of the table. Here in America, they’re often the butt of jokes. The shiny, sweet dried fruits are both exploited and ridiculed for their laxative properties. But do they really make you poop?

Conventional wisdom and scores of older folks insist that eating prunes will hasten the excretory process. Meanwhile, the European Union says they won’t. In a 2010 ruling, the European Food Safety Authority decreed that it was dishonest to sell prunes as laxatives [PDF]. The ruling, which cited “insufficient evidence” of prunes’ poop-moving properties, was met with incredulity and derision.

One miffed Parliamentarian challenged the ruling. “Most of our constituents do not require a scientific test,” Sir Graham Watson said. Watson then challenged the commissioner of health and consumer policy to a prune-eating contest, inviting the man to “see for himself.”

There actually is a good amount of scientific evidence to prove the power of prunes. On his Compound Chemistry blog, chemist Andy Brunning noted that studies in 2008 and 2011 concluded that prunes do indeed make effective laxatives.

Like many fruits, prunes are high in insoluble fiber, which adds bulk to food in the process of digestion while also helping it pass through the system faster. Prunes also contain sorbitol, a sugar alcohol that's used to sweeten things like chewing gum. It appears naturally in prunes, though it's often used as an artificial sweetener in "sugar free" chewing gum. Sorbitol is a laxative, which is why you should be mindful of how much sugar-free gum you chew.

The sorbitol isn’t working alone though, Brunning says. Prunes are naturally laced with neochlorogenic and chlorogenic acids—the same chemicals that can help send you to the bathroom after finishing your morning coffee.

So yes, prunes can ease the passage of certain personal parcels. But they’re also delicious—a fact often overshadowed by their functionality. That’s why, in 2000, the prune lobby launched a massive rebranding effort. Hit up the dried-fruit section of your supermarket and you will likely find “dried plums" instead of prunes.

“Ninety percent of consumers told us that they'd be more likely to enjoy the fruit if it were called a dried plum instead of a prune,” the newly renamed California Dried Plum Board said in a press release titled “You Won’t Have Prunes to Kick Around Anymore.”

Under any name, "dried plums" still have the power to move you—no matter what the European Union says.

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