I received Does It Fart? for my birthday from my sister and brother-in-law, who know that I like to read all manner of animal-related information. “It’s a bit silly,” my sister warned. Silly, perhaps, but also revelatory. I often stick post-its on the pages of books I’m reading to help me locate the interesting bits when I’m writing my reviews (I can’t bring myself to underline), and I’ve applied a remarkable number for such a short (133-page) book!
The Introduction explains why the authors decided to write this book. Dani Rabaiotti, a zoologist who studies climate change at the Zoological Society of London, was asked by a family member whether snakes farted. She wasn’t sure, so she asked a snake expert in Alabama, who responded, “<sigh>. yes.” Apparently “Does it fart?” is a question that frequently gets posed to animal experts. This inspired Nick Caruso to create #DoesItFart, through which scientific experts and pet owners happily contributed their wisdom. At this point, a book was inevitable.
For the most part, mammals fart. Not too long ago, kangaroos were in the news because it was thought that their low-methane emissions might hold a solution to climate change. Unfortunately, this option fizzled out after more research, although they do emit less methane than cows. Lions, majestic beasts of the savanna, have particularly smelly farts because they are strictly meat eaters. The authors note that “reportedly their bouts of flatulence become increasingly common with age.” <Editorial note: insert old person farting joke here.>
Whales fart, but all the ocean bubbles provide them with a cover story. The authors note that whale farts are “elusive and have only been captured a handful of times on camera.” I’m not ashamed to admit this sentence sent me scrambling to the internet, but the results were unreliable.
Horses fart big time because they are hind-gut fermenters, and the fermentation process produces lots of gas. Their close relative the mule isn’t specifically mentioned, but I can tell you from my trip to the Grand Canyon that mules are gassy critters. Warthogs fart, so for once Disney didn’t lie to us.
Of all the mammals covered in this book, only the sloth is thought to not pass gas. This is because they have simplified gut flora. Sloths do produce methane, but it is absorbed through the gut and into the bloodstream before being breathed out. In fact, trapped gas is dangerous for a sloth and could be a sign that something is wrong with their digestive system.
Things get interesting when we talk about birds, because they seem to have all the necessary anatomy, but they don’t have the same gas-producing bacteria, and food passes so quickly through their digestive system that there’s no time for gassy build-up. Of the roughly 10,000 species of birds, there’s no solid evidence that any of them toot. (Editorial note: This does not mean that gulls explode if they eat Alka Seltzer or that throwing rice at weddings kills birds. That is just silly. Please stop saying it.)
Sea anemones don’t have much of a digestive system, or an anus, so they don’t fart. (Technically their mouth acts as their anus, but that’s a whole other story). An individual termite can pass about half a microgram of methane per day, which may not sound like much until you consider that the total biomass of all the termites on earth is greater than all the humans. Together they contribute to about .27 percent of greenhouse emissions globally. Octopuses don’t fart, although their method of propulsion may cause some confusion. Nobody’s quite sure about spiders or salamanders. Sea cucumbers don’t fart, but they have some other fascinating ways to defend themselves with their butt.
There’s lots more interesting tidbits in this book. If you or somebody you know loves flatulence, pick it up! And remember, if you’re sitting around eating Christmas dinner and Dad tries to blame the odor on your pet sea cucumber, call him on that bullshit!