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3 Little Pigs and Their Military Service

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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
Owning a Dog May Add Years to Your Life, Study Shows
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We've said that having a furry friend can reduce depression, promote better sleep, and encourage more exercise. Now, research has indicated that caring for a canine might actually extend your lifespan.

Previous studies have shown that dog owners have an innate sense of comfort and increased well-being. A new paper published in Scientific Reports and conducted by Uppsala University in Sweden looked at the health records of 3.4 million of the country's residents. These records typically include personal data like marital status and whether the individual owns a pet. Researchers got additional insight from a national dog registry providing ownership information. According to the study, those with a dog for a housemate were less likely to die from cardiovascular disease or any other cause during the study's 12-year duration.

The study included adults 40 to 80 years old, with a mean age of 57. Researchers found that dogs were a positive predictor in health, particularly among singles. Those who had one were 33 percent less likely to die early than those who did not. Authors didn't conclude the exact reason behind the correlation: It could be active people are more likely to own dogs, that dogs promoted more activity, or that psychological factors like lowered incidences of depression might bolster overall well-being. Either way, having a pooch in your life could mean living a longer one.

[h/t Bloomberg]

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Big Questions
Why Don't We Eat Turkey Tails?
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Turkey sandwiches. Turkey soup. Roasted turkey. This year, Americans will consume roughly 245 million birds, with 46 million being prepared and presented on Thanksgiving. What we don’t eat will be repurposed into leftovers.

But there’s one part of the turkey that virtually no family will have on their table: the tail.

Despite our country’s obsession with fattening, dissecting, and searing turkeys, we almost inevitably pass up the fat-infused rear portion. According to Michael Carolan, professor of sociology and associate dean for research at the College for Liberal Arts at Colorado State University, that may have something to do with how Americans have traditionally perceived turkeys. Consumption was rare prior to World War II. When the birds were readily available, there was no demand for the tail because it had never been offered in the first place.

"Tails did and do not fit into what has become our culinary fascination with white meat," Carolan tells Mental Floss. "But also from a marketing [and] processor standpoint, if the consumer was just going to throw the tail away, or will not miss it if it was omitted, [suppliers] saw an opportunity to make additional money."

Indeed, the fact that Americans didn't have a taste for tail didn't prevent the poultry industry from moving on. Tails were being routed to Pacific Island consumers in the 1950s. Rich in protein and fat—a turkey tail is really a gland that produces oil used for grooming—suppliers were able to make use of the unwanted portion. And once consumers were exposed to it, they couldn't get enough.

“By 2007,” according to Carolan, “the average Samoan was consuming more than 44 pounds of turkey tails every year.” Perhaps not coincidentally, Samoans also have alarmingly high obesity rates of 75 percent. In an effort to stave off contributing factors, importing tails to the Islands was banned from 2007 until 2013, when it was argued that doing so violated World Trade Organization rules.

With tradition going hand-in-hand with commerce, poultry suppliers don’t really have a reason to try and change domestic consumer appetites for the tails. In preparing his research into the missing treat, Carolan says he had to search high and low before finally finding a source of tails at a Whole Foods that was about to discard them. "[You] can't expect the food to be accepted if people can't even find the piece!"

Unless the meat industry mounts a major campaign to shift American tastes, Thanksgiving will once again be filled with turkeys missing one of their juicier body parts.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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