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.

Meet LiLou: The World's First Airport Therapy Pig

Kseniia Derzhavina/iStock via Getty Images
Kseniia Derzhavina/iStock via Getty Images

There's a new reason to get to the airport early—you might run into a therapy pig who's there to make your trip a little easier. As Reuters reports, LiLou the Juliana pig is a member of San Francisco International Airport's "Wag Brigade," a therapy animal program designed to ease stress and anxiety in travelers.

Aside from her snout and potbelly, LiLou can be recognized by her captain's hat and red "hoof" polish. She spends the day with guests who are happy to take a break from the pressures of traveling. She might comfort them by posing for a selfie, playing a song on her toy keyboard, or offering them a head to pet.

After bringing joy to people's day, LiLou goes home to her San Francisco apartment where she lives with her owner, Tatyana Danilova. In her free time, she goes on daily walks and snacks on organic vegetables. She even has her own Instagram account.

Airports around the world are embracing the benefits therapy animals can bring to customers. The Wag Brigade program at San Francisco includes a number of dogs, and earlier this year, the Aberdeen Airport in Scotland debuted its own "canine crew" of dogs trained to make travelers feel safe and happy. Therapy miniature horses have even been used at an airport in Kentucky. According to the San Francisco Airport, LiLiou is the world's first airport therapy pig.

To see LiLou turn on the charm, check out the video below.

[h/t Reuters]

Sssspectacular: Tree Snakes in Australia Can Actually Jump

sirichai_raksue/iStock via Getty Images
sirichai_raksue/iStock via Getty Images

Ophidiophobia, or fear of snakes, is common among humans. We avoid snakes in the wild, have nightmares about snakes at night, and recoil at snakes on television. We might even be born with the aversion. When researchers showed babies photos of snakes and spiders, their tiny pupils dilated, indicating an arousal response to these ancestral threats.

If you really want to scare a baby, show them footage of an Australian tree snake. Thanks to researchers at Virginia Tech, we now know these non-venomous snakes of the genus Dendrelaphis can become airborne, propelling themselves around treetops like sentient Silly String.

That’s Dendrelaphis pictus, which was caught zipping through the air in 2010. After looking at footage previously filmed by her advisor Jake Socha, Virginia Tech Ph.D. candidate Michelle Graham headed for Australia and built a kind of American Ninja Warrior course for snakes out of PVC piping and tree branches. Graham observed that the snakes tend to spot their landing target, then spring upward. The momentum gets them across gaps that would otherwise not be practical to cross.

Graham next plans to investigate why snakes feel compelled to jump. They might feel a need to escape, or continue moving, or do it because they can. Two scientific papers due in 2020 could provide answers.

Dendrelaphis isn’t the only kind of snake with propulsive capabilities. The Chrysopelea genus includes five species found in Southeast Asia and China, among other places, that can glide through the air.

[h/t National Geographic]

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