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Royal Navy

3 Little Pigs and Their Military Service

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Royal Navy

You hear stories about heroic military dogs, homing pigeons, and even the unique story of Wojtek the military bear, but even lowly pigs have left their mark in wartime. Here are the stories of three of them.

1. Tirpitz, the Swimming German Pig of World War I

Tirpitz was a pig carried on the German warship SMS Dresden in 1914 as a food source. The Dresden was sunk in battle with the Royal Navy cruiser HMS Glasgow off the coast of South America during the Battle of Más a Tierra. Tirpitz managed to escape the sinking ship and swam towards the Glasgow. The crew brought him aboard and adopted him as a mascot, named him after German admiral Alfred von Tirpitz, and awarded him the Iron Cross for bravery.

After a year aboard the Glasgow, Tirpitz was transferred to the Whale Island Gunnery School in Portsmouth. Tirpitz was eventually auctioned off as pork, but in his final act he raised £1,785 for the British Red Cross. His head was mounted and can be seen at the Imperial War Museum in London. Tirpitz's trotters (feet) were made into handles for a carving set that traveled with the Glasgow in World War II, giving Tirpitz the dubious honor of serving aboard the British ship in two wars.

2. Pig 311, the Nuclear Survivor

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In 1946, the United States conducted a pair of nuclear weapons tests in Bikini Atoll under the name Operation Crossroads. To test how nuclear explosions would affect ships at sea, 22 ships were moored at different distances from the blast, loaded with guinea pigs, goats, pigs, mice, and rats to test the effects of the blast and fallout on Navy personnel. A third of the animals were killed by either the explosion or by radiation. Most of the others died of radiation sickness over the next few weeks. The animals were secured in their positions, but some of the ships were destroyed in the blast. Recovery crews found a test pig that had survived the destruction of her ship and was found swimming in a nearby lagoon. That was Pig 311.

Pig 311 became famous not only because of her escape from the ship, but because she survived the radioactive fallout that killed most of the other test animals. After three more years with the Navy (as a subject of study), Pig 311, along with another survivor, Goat 315, were given to the Smithsonian National Zoo. Pig 311 was given the opportunity but never produced any offspring. Speculation is that she was rendered sterile by the radiation of the nuclear test. Pig 311 lived at the zoo until her death in 1950.

3. King Neptune, the World War II Fundraiser

Photograph by Eric Crowley.

A pig named Parker Neptune was born on Sherman Boner's farm in southern Illinois in 1942. Don C. Lingle, a Navy recruiter, acquired the pig and renamed him King Neptune. Lingle collaborated with auctioneer L. Oard Sitter to auction the pig for war bonds. The auctioneer dressed the pig in a Navy blanket as a gimmick. Bidders pledged $11,200 in war bonds for various parts of the pig by the time the auction was over—then the buyers donated the pig back to be auctioned off again! It was all in the spirit of supporting the war effort. King Neptune gained local fame through the stunt, and was auctioned off again—for $50,000. And again, for half a million. As word spread, King Neptune was driven from town to town, selling war bonds and escaping the butcher's cleaver every time. He arrived at auction dressed in a Navy blanket, a crown, and jewelry befitting his regal name. At least once, his squeal was auctioned, and a single bristle was sold for $500. The governor of Illinois once bid a million dollars on the pig on behalf of the state. Before the end of World War II, King Neptune had raised $19 million—equivalent to over $200 million today.

In 1946, Lingle saved King Neptune from a planned trip to the slaughterhouse and arranged for him to retire to the farm of Ernest Goddard in Illinois. There he lived until his death of pneumonia in 1950. King Neptune was buried with military honors, and a memorial was erected in his memory.

See also: Ten Pigs We Love and When Pigs Fly.

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Animals
The Mules That Help Fight California's Wildfires
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iStock

Forget dalmatians—in remote parts of Northern California, mules are the fire department's four-legged helpers of choice.

When a blaze roars to life in a residential area, firefighters can use trucks to transport the tools needed to battle it. But in the California wilderness, where vehicles—and sometimes thanks to environmental restrictions, helicopters—can’t venture, mules bear the burden. According to Business Insider, the donkey-horse hybrids can carry 120 pounds of supplies apiece while walking 4 mph up rugged terrain. Llamas are also capable of making the trek, but mules are preferred for their resilience and intelligence.

You can see them at work in the video below.

These animals do extraordinary work for the country, but they’re not the only mules assisting the U.S. government. The Havasupai village of Supai is located at the bottom of the Grand Canyon, and the mail is delivered there each day by parcel-toting mules.

[h/t Business Insider]

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Tom Houslay, Flickr Creative Commons // CC BY-NC 2.0
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Animals
Scientists Catch Tiny Jumping Spiders Eating Frogs and Lizards
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Tom Houslay, Flickr Creative Commons // CC BY-NC 2.0

Small, but mighty: Some jumping spiders can overpower and devour their larger, cold-blooded, would-be predators, according to scientists writing in the Journal of Arachnology.

Biologist Martin Nyffeler at the University of Basel in Switzerland spends his days studying arachnid and insect eating habits. Over the last few years, he and his colleagues have made some astounding discoveries. For one, not only do spiders consume millions of tons of bugs each year, but they also eat fish, and bats, and plants. With a palate this broad, a hunger this big, and a ferocity to match, why wouldn't little spiders occasionally order off the reptile and amphibian menu? The researchers decided to search the scientific literature for reports of spider-on-frog-or-lizard action.

They found plenty. Their search unearthed one sighting in Costa Rica and eight separate instances in seven different Florida counties, all initiated by a single species. The regal jumping spider may weigh less than one-tenth of an ounce, but that apparently doesn't stop it from going after frogs and small lizards called anoles.

One report came from local nature blogger Loret Setters, who watched a Cuban tree frog disappear into a regal jumping spider's mouth.

"He was staring me down, like, 'You're next!'" Setters told National Geographic. "I was completely shocked."

A small jumping spider eats a dead frog.
A female regal jumping spider goes to town on a Cuban frog.

This remarkable reversal of the predator-prey relationship is made possible by jumping spiders' specialized hunting skills. Unlike most spiders, which spin webs and then lie in wait, jumping spiders stalk their prey like tigers. They have incredibly good vision and decent hearing, and they're all venomous.

Behavioral ecologist Thomas C. Jones of East Tennessee State University was not involved with the study but says spiders likely only go after frogs and lizards when easier meals are scarce.

"They do tend to get bolder as they get hungrier," he said.

[h/t National Geographic News]

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