11 Things You Might Not Know About Pigs

iStock.com/t-lorien
iStock.com/t-lorien

Perhaps there's a reason pigs are a favorite of children and fairy tales alike—pigs are some of the most intelligent and social animals out there. In honor of this year's designation as Year of the Pig on the Chinese zodiac calendar, here are a few facts you may not know about these curly-tailed cuties.

1. Pigs were domesticated more than 9000 years ago.

Scientists estimate that pigs have been around for quite a long time. The omnivorous species is one of the oldest domesticated kinds of animals—behind only dogs and goats. Their wild ancestor is thought to be the Eurasian boar.

2. Pigs have very few sweat glands.

A pig in a mud puddle
iStock.com/ChristiLaLiberte

Think of a classic image of a pig—odds are, it's rolling around in the mud. On hot days, pigs like to wallow in mud not because they're dirty, but to cool off. Pigs' lack sweat glands that would otherwise release body heat, and their high body fat necessitates they find ways to not fry in the sun. The muck allows them to maintain their proper body temperature while also having some leisurely, wallowing self-care.

3. Pigs can be found on every continent except Antarctica.

Considering how long swine has been around, the reach of the world's pig species spans across the globe. Every continent has some population of pigs, boars, and hogs, with Antarctica the only exception.

4. Feral pigs cause more than $1 billion in damages annually in the U.S.

Wild boars walk across a field
iStock.com/JohnCarnemolla

Your typical piglet doesn't evoke any sense of danger, but feral pigs—and a growing number of invasive pigs—are another story. Wild pigs cause an estimated $1.5 billion in damage annually in the United States; their rooting for food can tear up farmland, trample crops and recreational areas, and push out other wildlife. Plus, they can carry disease risks that are more threatening to livestock and other domesticated animals, like dogs [PDF]. Pigs may not be trampling over city buildings like Godzilla, but their impact on agricultural land is widespread and significant.

5. There are more pigs in Denmark than humans.

Denmark has a larger population of pigs than human beings. Part of this has to do with its lucrative meat industry, with over 5000 pig farms producing around 28 million pigs, with 20 million being slaughtered each year. In contrast, Denmark's human population is 5 to 6 million people. The pig population is so valuable, in fact, that the country recently began building a $12 million wall to prevent wild boars (who could possibly carry African swine fever, a viral disease which is highly contagious and deadly to both wild and domestic pigs, but not humans) in neighboring Germany from invading Danish pig farms.

6. Pigs are video game pros.

Research at Penn State in the 1990s demonstrated that pigs, which are often perceived as being dirty and feeble-minded, have a remarkable aptitude for video games. The study showed that pigs are so smart that they were able to learn how to play a game involving a joystick better than chimpanzees and a Jack Russell terrier (a breed often used in movies because it is known for its intelligence and trainability).

7. Forty-six piglets were used to play the role of Wilbur in Charlotte's Web.

Wilbur, the main character in E.B. White’s timeless children's tale Charlotte's Web, is likely literature's most beloved pig. The 2006 movie adaptation of the same name seemingly knew as such and used 46 piglets to accurately portray the character on the big screen. Each and every one of the piglets was treated like Hollywood royalty: After filming wrapped, they were looked after and given new homes in Australia (where the film was shot). And, another pig from the movie also got a happy ending—the sow who played Wilbur's mother, who was later named Alice, went to live at an animal sanctuary with two of the piglets. Squeal!

8. Winston Churchill appreciated pigs.

Winston Churchill in London in 1922.
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Winston Churchill is best remembered for his leadership as the prime minister of the United Kingdom during World War II. It's somewhat of a shame that, lost in his sea of memorable speeches and quotes, his wise view on pigs went a bit unnoticed. "I am fond of pigs," Churchill once said. "Dogs look up to us. Cats look down on us. Pigs treat us as equals." In other words, dogs seek our approval, cats couldn't care less, but pigs, who are intelligent and sociable, are on more equal-footing with humans.

9. Some pigs know how to surf.

We told you pigs were smart. When they aren't playing barnyard bowling, basketball, or doing puzzles, sometimes they'll get their thrills from riding a wave. Hawaiian porcine celebrity Kamapua'a—otherwise known as Kama the Surfing Pig—goes boarding with his owner, Kai Holt, often enough that he has his surfing technique down. Kama's even good enough that he can take you out for a ride—via a GoPro, at least—and he's taught his piggie son, Kama 2, the ways of the Shaka life. Sounds like hog heaven.

10. Miss Piggy was originally named "Piggy Lee."

Miss Piggy attends a film premiere in 2011.
Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

Kermit the Frog may have his own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, but his romantic interest, Miss Piggy, is an icon in her own right. But before the diva was fully realized, she went by a slightly different name. According to handwritten notes and Polaroids from Muppets creator Jim Henson, Miss Piggy was originally named Piggy Lee, a reference to famed jazz singer Peggy Lee.

"When I first created Miss Piggy I called her Miss Piggy Lee—as both a joke and an homage," Muppet designer Bonnie Erickson told Smithsonian in 2008. "Peggy Lee was a very independent woman, and Piggy certainly is the same." But, like many a starlet destined for the limelight, Piggy Lee needed her name to be more original. And also, "as Piggy's fame began to grow, nobody wanted to upset Peggy Lee," Erickson added, "especially because we admired her work."

11. The piggy bank originated from pygg pots.

A pink piggy bank
iStock.com/AnthiaCumming

As a kid, you saved all your spare change in one particular safekeeping storage item: the piggy bank. But of all the animals in the world, why did the pig get all of the glory?

In the 13th to 15th centuries, one of the most common places for people to store their money was in jars made of orange-colored clay called "pygg." As the English language evolved, that word eventually became pig or piggy. Whether by accident or design, around the 19th century manufacturers began molding little pots into the shape of pigs, and eventually piggy banks were all the rage. So next time you bring home a little extra bacon, you know where to put it.

10 Products for a Better Night's Sleep

Amazon/Comfort Spaces
Amazon/Comfort Spaces

Getting a full eight hours of sleep can be tough these days. If you’re having trouble catching enough Zzzs, consider giving these highly rated and recommended products a try.

1. Everlasting Comfort Pure Memory Foam Knee Pillow; $25

Everlasting Comfort Knee Pillow
Everlasting Comfort/Amazon

For side sleepers, keeping the spine, hips, and legs aligned is key to a good night’s rest—and a pain-free morning after. Everlasting Comfort’s memory foam knee pillow is ergonomically designed to fit between the knees or thighs to ensure proper alignment. One simple but game-changing feature is the removable strap, which you can fasten around one leg; this keeps the pillow in place even as you roll at night, meaning you don’t have to wake up to adjust it (or pick it up from your floor). Reviewers call the pillow “life-changing” and “the best knee pillow I’ve found.” Plus, it comes with two pairs of ear plugs.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Letsfit White Noise Machine; $21

Letsfit White Noise Machine
Letsfit/Amazon

White noise machines: They’re not just for babies! This Letsfit model—which is rated 4.7 out of five with nearly 3500 reviews—has 14 potential sleep soundtracks, including three white noise tracks, to better block out everything from sirens to birds that chirp enthusiastically at dawn (although there’s also a birds track, if that’s your thing). It also has a timer function and a night light.

Buy it: Amazon

3. ECLIPSE Blackout Curtains; $16

Eclipse Black Out Curtains
Eclipse/Amazon

According to the National Sleep Foundation, too much light in a room when you’re trying to snooze is a recipe for sleep disaster. These understated polyester curtains from ECLIPSE block 99 percent of light and reduce noise—plus, they’ll help you save on energy costs. "Our neighbor leaves their backyard light on all night with what I can only guess is the same kind of bulb they use on a train headlight. It shines across their yard, through ours, straight at our bedroom window," one Amazon reviewer who purchased the curtains in black wrote. "These drapes block the light completely."

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4. JALL Wake Up Light Sunrise Alarm Clock; $38

JALL Wake Up Light Sunrise Alarm Clock
JALL/Amazon

Being jarred awake by a blaring alarm clock can set the wrong mood for the rest of your day. Wake up in a more pleasant way with this clock, which gradually lights up between 10 percent and 100 percent in the 30 minutes before your alarm. You can choose between seven different colors and several natural sounds as well as a regular alarm beep, but why would you ever use that? “Since getting this clock my sleep has been much better,” one reviewer reported. “I wake up not feeling tired but refreshed.”

Buy it: Amazon

5. Philips SmartSleep Wake-Up Light; $200

Philips SmartSleep Wake-Up Light
Philips/Amazon

If you’re looking for an alarm clock with even more features, Philips’s SmartSleep Wake-Up Light is smartphone-enabled and equipped with an AmbiTrack sensor, which tracks things like bedroom temperature, humidity, and light levels, then gives recommendations for how you can get a better night’s rest.

Buy it: Amazon

6. Slumber Cloud Stratus Sheet Set; $159

Stratus sheets from Slumber Cloud.
Slumber Cloud

Being too hot or too cold can kill a good night’s sleep. The Good Housekeeping Institute rated these sheets—which are made with Outlast fibers engineered by NASA—as 2020’s best temperature-regulating sheets.

Buy it: SlumberCloud

7. Comfort Space Coolmax Sheet Set; $29-$40

Comfort Spaces Coolmax Sheets
Comfort Spaces/Amazon

If $159 sheets are out of your price range, the GHI recommends these sheets from Comfort Spaces, which are made with moisture-wicking Coolmax microfiber. Depending on the size you need, they range in price from $29 to $40.

Buy it: Amazon

8. Coop Home Goods Eden Memory Foam Pillow; $80

Coop Eden Pillow
Coop Home Goods/Amazon

This pillow—which has a 4.5-star rating on Amazon—is filled with memory foam scraps and microfiber, and comes with an extra half-pound of fill so you can add, or subtract, the amount in the pillow for ultimate comfort. As a bonus, the pillows are hypoallergenic, mite-resistant, and washable.

Buy it: Amazon

9. Baloo Weighted Blanket; $149-$169

Baloo Weighted Blanket
Baloo/Amazon

Though the science is still out on weighted blankets, some people swear by them. Wirecutter named this Baloo blanket the best, not in small part because, unlike many weighted blankets, it’s machine-washable and -dryable. It’s currently available in 12-pound ($149) twin size and 20-pound ($169) queen size. It’s rated 4.7 out of five stars on Amazon, with one reviewer reporting that “when it's spread out over you it just feels like a comfy, snuggly hug for your whole body … I've found it super relaxing for falling asleep the last few nights, and it looks nice on the end of the bed, too.” 

Buy it: Amazon 

10. Philips Smartsleep Snoring Relief Band; $200

Philips SmartSleep Snoring Relief Band
Philips/Amazon

Few things can disturb your slumber—and that of the ones you love—like loudly sawing logs. Philips’s Smartsleep Snoring Relief Band is designed for people who snore when they’re sleeping on their backs, and according to the company, 86 percent of people who used the band reported reduced snoring after a month. The device wraps around the torso and is equipped with a sensor that delivers vibrations if it detects you moving to sleep on your back; those vibrations stop when you roll onto your side. The next day, you can see how many hours you spent in bed, how many of those hours you spent on your back, and your response rate to the vibrations. The sensor has an algorithm that notes your response rate and tweaks the intensity of vibrations based on that. “This device works exactly as advertised,” one Amazon reviewer wrote. “I’d say it’s perfect.”

Buy it: Amazon

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

10 Facts About Argentine Ants

A pile of genetically-related Argentine ants
A pile of genetically-related Argentine ants
Marc Matteo, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

A supercolony of invasive Argentine ants (Linepithema humile) stretches for 560 miles beneath California, from San Diego to San Francisco. The billions of Argentine ants are unlike other ants in many ways—and they are virtually indestructible. Along with their supercolonies in Europe, Japan, and Australia, L. humile’s global domination is rivaled only by that of human beings. Here’s what you should know about these prolific pests.

1. Argentine ant colonies are ruled by hundreds of queens.

Most ant colonies revolve around a single queen. Growing much larger than the worker drones, she is programmed to mate as quickly as possible, then to leave her nest of origin and establish a new one. In some species, a single queen can lay millions of eggs in a lifetime, producing an army of worker drones and future queens who will go off to build their own nests. But unlike most ants, Argentines are polygynous: Each nest contains multiple queens. In some, they can form up to 30 percent of the population.

2. Argentine ants move their nests frequently.

Nest types vary from ant species to ant species, but those who live in soil commonly dig tunnels and chambers deep into the earth that will protect the colony throughout the life of the queen. L. humile, though, is transient and ever shifting. Argentine ants frequently pack up their eggs and move the entire colony, queen and all, to a new nest, even when there is no apparent threat. Biologist Deborah Gordon told Ars Technica that the ants typically have 20 to 30 shallow nests at any one time, which can be built up in a matter of just weeks.

3. Argentine ants traveled the U.S. before settling down in California.

Argentine ants arrived in the United States from Northern Argentina in the late 19th century, when the first recorded Argentine ant was found in Louisiana in 1891. Researchers believe that the ants hitched a ride to North America in Argentinian shipments of coffee or sugar off-loaded at the Port of New Orleans. From there, they traveled—most likely by train—across the South and into California. Enticed by the Mediterranean climate, one similar to that of its original home in South America, the ants set up shop. By 1907, they’d displaced local native ants and begun their first steps towards total soil domination along 560 miles of California coastline.

4. California’s Argentine ants are more laid-back than their South American cousins.

In side-by-side comparisons of Argentine ants from their South American homeland and California, researchers have found that those from the West Coast are far more mellow than those from Argentina. In studies, it was typical for two ants from different nests to fight when placed in the same vial in Argentina, but in California, ants from different nests rarely fought, even when they were collected from locations several hundred miles apart.

A DNA study of ants from both locations in 2000 revealed a stark difference. In the ants from Argentina, microsatellites—short, uniquely patterned DNA sequences passed down from generation to generation—had more than twice as much variation as the microsatellites of the Californian ants. When two individuals from different nests in California were placed together, they recognized one another as family. The ants from Argentina didn’t, making them more likely to display territorial aggression.

The difference is rooted in the genetic bottleneck the ants encountered on their arrival to the Golden State over a century ago. According to biologist Neil D. Tsutsui, who conducted the DNA study, the ants in California today are all descendants of that founding colony. “It would be as if all of the people in the United States were descended from the Pilgrims who came here in 1620,” he told the Stanford Report in 2004. Instead of competing with one another, generation after generation has worked together to take out native ants and build an immense California colony.

5. Argentine ants protect other insects in exchange for sweet, sweet honeydew.

Argentine ants
Two Argentine ants share a tiny blob of honeydew.
Davefoc, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 4.0

Argentine ants love to feed on sweet nectar, but flowers and suburban kitchens aren’t the only source of such desirable foodstuffs. Insects that feed on plant sap, like mealybugs, scales, and aphids, naturally excrete sugar-rich liquid “honeydew” from their butts. To secure a steady flow of the sticky-sweet substance, Argentine ants will fight off the predators of their insect chefs, including soldier beetles and midges. They’ll even relocate their honeydew producers to better food sources or microclimates to get the most they can out of their anal secretions.

6. The California Argetine ant supercolony is one-sixth the size of Southern Europe’s.

The California supercolony, which scientists have named the “Californian large,” is only the second-biggest conglomeration of Argentine ants in the world. The biggest colony is found along Southern Europe’s Mediterranean coast, where it stretches 3700 miles from northern Italy to the Atlantic coast of Spain. The ants, introduced around 80 years ago, now number in the billions. Smaller supercolonies also exist in Japan and Australia.

7. Argentine ants are second only to humans in their scale of world domination.

In 2009, researchers discovered that Argentine ants from three of the world’s largest supercolonies (Southern Europe, California, and Japan) are so closely related that they actually form a single mega-colony. The study, led by Eriki Sunamura from the University of Tokyo, found that when placed together, ants from the three supercolonies refused to fight. Instead, they rubbed antennae in greeting the way L. humile does when interacting with genetically-related individuals.

The researchers believe that the Argentine ant mega-colony isn’t just the largest insect colony ever identified; it rivals that of human colonization around the globe. Presenting their findings in the journal Insect Sociaux, they wrote, “the enormous extent of this population is paralleled only by human society.”

8. A mass execution of Argentine ant queens takes place every spring.

Each spring, just before mating season begins, worker ants go on a killing rampage and assassinate 90 percent of their queens. Entomologists aren’t sure exactly why the large-scale execution occurs, but one hypothesis, published in the Journal of Evolutionary Biology in 2001, suggests that it is a “spiteful behavior” to kill the queens that are less related, on average, to the workers.

In their study, researchers from the University of Lausanne hypothesized that Argentine ants are regularly separated from direct family members through free exchange among the nests. Before mating season begins each year, those that are genetically related band together to kill more distantly related queens. Doing so decreases the nest’s genetic diversity and allows it to be rebuilt with a queen who is directly related to the greatest majority of workers.

The study’s results were inconclusive and the question remained unanswered, yet researchers learned something unexpected in the process. Instead of finding genetic diversity among worker ants, those belonging to each nest were actually a homogenous population. Only the queens were genetic outliers with relatively few familial relationships in each nest.

9. Climate change is making Argentine ants more of a nuisance to humans.

Argentine ants thrive in a Mediterranean climate where winters are cool and wet and summers are warm and dry. When conditions are ideal, they largely keep to themselves, but when conditions are drought-like or extremely wet, the ants move indoors in search of more hospitable climes. Experts at survival, Argentine ants can find food or water that’s been left unguarded in just minutes.

With the climate crisis, conditions in California are becoming more extreme. Hot days, no longer relegated just to the summer months, are becoming more numerous and prolonged. Droughts are becoming more frequent. While these changes are unlikely to harm much of the California supercolony, they are likely to drive the residents of urban nests more frequently into people's homes, making the ants a major nuisance for residents from San Diego to San Francisco.

10. Argentine ants are almost impossible to eradicate.

Individual Argentine ants are easy enough to kill, but an Argentine ant colony is a different story. The California colony has no natural predators and, thanks to their high levels of cooperation and massive numbers, L. humile has effectively destroyed possible competitors and disrupted the ecological balance of native species in the process. Insecticides, which are unable to penetrate into the underground nests, aren’t particularly effective. And because the ants can pick up and move their entire nest so quickly, neither are household control measures such as ant bait. After just over a century in California, Argentine ants are now virtually invincible.