Does It Fart?

By Mary Dalheim; Art by Jack Desrocher

An elephant does. And so do you. But a goldfish rarely—if ever—does. And an octopus definitely does not. Discover more about animals that do and do not pass gas!

Dani Rabaiotti is a zoologist, a scientist who studies animals. People ask Dani all kinds of questions about wildlife. One day, her younger brother came up with a really good one: “Do snakes fart?” Dani didn’t know the answer, so she asked a snake expert on Twitter. His response? “Yes, they do!”

Dozens of scientists caught wind of this Twitter conversation and jumped in. They talked about other animals that “let one slip”—and about some that do not. They also discussed (1) why certain animals fart, (2) how much and how often they fart, and (3) what different farts smell and sound like!

A BOOK IS BORN
Nick Caruso was one of these scientists. He was so inspired by this blast of fart facts that he teamed up with Dani to put some of them in a book called Does It Fart? The Definitive Guide to Animal Flatulence. (Flatulence is the medical term for farting.) There is no scientific definition for the word fart. So, Nick and Dani developed their own: A fart is any gas that comes out the end of an animal that is opposite its mouth.

For people and many other mammals, farts are mainly the result of digestion. Tiny organisms called bacteria break down food in the mammals’ intestines (guts) and produce gas in the process. That gas has no place to go but out the animals’ rear ends.

Farts can happen in many other ways, too. For example, some animals swallow air or other gases and then force them out their rears. (You’ll find out why later.) Nick and Dani’s definition covers all kinds of farting activities.

After coming up with a definition, the two scientists began selecting and organizing information from the Twitter messages. The result is a book on the farting habits of 80 animals—in more detail than you ever knew you needed. Here are just a few of those gaseous facts!

ELEPHANT
Does It Fart? Yes.
Both Asian and African elephants produce very stinky farts—and lots of them. Zookeepers who work with elephants put their biggest offenders on diets of rice mixed with grilled garlic. Nobody knows why this quells the smell, but it does!

SLOTH
Does It Fart? No.
Sloths eat nothing but leaves. This causes their intestines to produce loads of gas. The gas can’t stay in their guts long or it will make them sick. But sloths don’t fart it out. Instead, their intestines absorb the gas and move it into the bloodstream. Then it is breathed out through the lungs.

LACEWING
Does It Fart? One species does.
Every lacewing spends part of its early life as a wormlike larva. The larva of one species, the beaded lacewing, has a really rude way of catching a termite for dinner. Check it out:

1. The larva raises its tail and farts on the termite’s head!

2. The fart includes a stinky chemical that stuns the termite and eventually kills it.

3. The young lacewing gobbles up the fart-coated treat. Yum!

OCTOPUS
Does It Fart? No.
Octopuses don’t release gas, so they are not farters. But every octopus has a special tube, called a siphon, that can shoot out water to push the eight-armed creature through the ocean. And when an octopus is threatened, dark, inky stuff might shoot out to help confuse a predator.

SNAKE
Does It Fart? This species does.
The venomous Sonoran coral snake lives in Mexico and the southwestern United States. Surprisingly, its first choice for defending itself against predators is not to bite but to fart! If threatened, a Sonoran coral will follow these steps: (1) raise its tail, (2) suck air into a rear hole called a cloaca (kloh-AY-kah), and (3) push the air back out with a loud pop. The pop sounds like a higher-pitched, shorter version of a human fart. Other snakes fart, too, but usually in other ways.

GOLDFISH
Does It Fart? Hardly ever.
Goldfish don’t usually fart, even though they have some gas-making bacteria in their intestines. It is far more common to see them burp out gas through their mouths than pass it through their other ends. On the rare occasion when a goldfish does fart, it is probably because it is having serious indigestion.

ZEBRA
Does It Fart? Yes.
Zebra farts can be heard from long distances across the plains of Africa. Zebras seem to fart the most when they are startled. (We’ve all been there.)

BIRD
Does It Fart? No.
Birds don’t have the same gas-producing bacteria in their intestines that are found in mammals and other farting animals. Plus, food passes very quickly through bird digestive systems, so there’s not a lot of time for gas to build up.

On the other hand, there have been many reports of farting parrots. But scientists think these reports are just a lot of hot air. They say parrots are really good at mimicking human sounds, including the sound of human farting. Bottom line: The farts you hear from parrots are probably coming from their mouths, not their other ends.

SPIDER
Does It Fart? Nobody knows.
No one has ever studied spiders to see if they fart. So, the truth about their toots remains a mystery.

HUMAN
Does It Fart? Yes.
A person usually farts 10 to 20 times a day. But a person who eats lots of fruits, vegetables (especially beans), and other foods high in fiber, might fart up to 50 times. Unlike most farting animals, humans can get emotional about this bodily function. Some people find farts disgusting or embarrassing. Others find them hilarious!

Hope you had a gas reading these facts about farts!

Information in this article came from Does It Fart? The Definitive Guide to Animal Flatulence by Dani Rabaiotti and Nick Caruso (Hachette Books, 2018). To learn more about the book, visit online at rangerrick.org/fart.

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