Why Do Fainting Goats Faint?

iStock
iStock

If you haven’t been to a farm with fainting goats, you might have witnessed their signature move online: When startled, the farm animals will seize up and topple over, sticking their limbs straight out like cartoon corpses. Some people think the apparent over-dramatic behavior is hilarious (as evidenced by countless viral videos), but once you learn the real reason for the response, it doesn’t seem so cute.

Fainting goats are a small domestic goat breed native to North America. Technically called myotonic goats, they don’t really faint at all. Fainting involves losing consciousness briefly due to lack of oxygen in the brain. When a myotonic goat falls over, it’s because of problems with their muscles, not their brain, and they remain completely conscious for the whole episode.

Myotonic goats suffer from a condition called myotonia congenita, which causes their muscles to stiffen involuntarily and stay that way for brief periods. Regular goats, along with most animals, respond one of two ways when confronted with a perceived threat: fight or flight. What this looks like in the body is a sudden tensing of the skeleton muscles—the brain's cue to get ready to move—followed by an immediate relaxing of the muscles, allowing the body to either rush forward or flee the scene.

When a fainting goat's body tenses up in fear it has a much harder time getting back to normal. The goat’s muscles continue to contract for about 10 to 20 seconds after it’s startled, which is where the fainting part of its name comes in. “You can imagine if you’re stiff, you’re going to fall over,” Susan Schoenian, a goat specialist at the University of Maryland's Western Maryland Research and Education Center, tells Mental Floss. “And that’s where the name comes from.”

There’s a reason you don’t see this type of defect too often in nature. Falling to the ground at times when you’re most vulnerable isn’t exactly a desirable trait to have, and in the wild, natural selection would have quickly removed the condition from the gene pool. But when these goats first appeared in Tennessee in the 1880s, breeders had an incentive to keep them the way they were. Myotonia congenita is associated with dense, meaty muscles, and as a result myotonic goats have one of the highest meat-to-bone ratios of any goat breed.

In the 21st century, fainting goats have gained popularity as quirky, internet-friendly pets. Sneaking up on them has become a pastime among some goat owners, but don’t feel too bad next time a fainting goat compilation pops up in your feed: The reaction isn’t supposed to be harmful or painful for goats—it’s likely just annoying.

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

How Did 6 Feet Become the Standard Grave Depth?

iStock
iStock

It all started with the plague: The origins of “six feet under” come from a 1665 outbreak in England. As the disease swept the country, the mayor of London literally laid down the law about how to deal with the bodies to avoid further infections. Among his specifications—made in “Orders Conceived and Published by the Lord Mayor and Aldermen of the City of London, Concerning the Infection of the Plague”—was that “all the graves shall be at least six feet deep.”

The law eventually fell out of favor both in England and its colonies. Modern American burial laws vary from state to state, though many states simply require a minimum of 18 inches of soil on top of the casket or burial vault (or two feet of soil if the body is not enclosed in anything). Given an 18-inch dirt buffer and the height of the average casket (which appears to be approximately 30 inches), a grave as shallow as four feet would be fine.

A typical modern burial involves a body pumped full of chemical preservatives sealed inside a sturdy metal casket, which is itself sealed inside a steel or cement burial vault. It’s less of a hospitable environment for microbes than the grave used to be. For untypical burials, though—where the body isn’t embalmed, a vault isn’t used, or the casket is wood instead of metal or is foregone entirely—even these less strict burial standards provide a measure of safety and comfort. Without any protection, and subjected to a few years of soil erosion, the bones of the dearly departed could inconveniently and unexpectedly surface or get too close to the living, scaring people and acting as disease vectors. The minimum depth helps keep the dead down where they belong.

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

This article originally appeared in 2012.

What's the Difference Between Apple Juice and Apple Cider?

iStock/Alter_photo
iStock/Alter_photo

In a time before pumpkin spice went overboard with its marketing, people associated fall with fresh apples. Crisp and fresh, they practically beg to be crushed and pulped into liquid. But what’s the difference between apple juice and apple cider?

According to the state of Massachusetts, home to a variety of apple-picking destinations, both apple juice and apple cider are fruit beverages. But apple cider is raw, unfiltered juice—the pulp and sediment are intact. To make cider, the apples are ground into an applesauce-like consistency, then wrapped in cloth. A machine squeezes the layers and strains out the juice into cold tanks. That’s the cider that ends up on store shelves.

Apple juice, on the other hand, takes things a step further—removing solids and pasteurizing the liquid to lengthen its shelf life. It’s typically sweeter, possibly with added sugar, and may lack the stronger flavor of its relatively unprocessed counterpart. It’s also often lighter in color, since the remaining sediment of cider can give it a cloudy appearance.

But that’s just the Massachusetts standard. Each state allows for a slight variation in what companies are allowed to call apple cider versus apple juice. The cider may be pasteurized, or the cider and juice may actually be more or less identical. One company, Martinelli’s, states in its company FAQ that their two drinks are the same in every way except the label: "Both are 100 percent pure juice from U.S. grown fresh apples. We continue to offer the cider label since some consumers simply prefer the traditional name for apple juice."

The US Apple Association, a nonprofit trade organization that represents growers nationwide, indicates that apple juice can be made from concentrate, which is why you might see water as the first ingredient on the label. Generally, cider is the hard stuff: Crushed apples with minimal processing. Because it can ferment, it's usually found refrigerated. Apple juice can often be found elsewhere in stores, where it can remain stable.

Which you should buy comes down to personal preference. Typically, though, recipes calling for apple cider should use apple cider. Processed juice may be too sweet an ingredient. And you can always try making a pumpkin spice hot apple cider, although we may stop talking to you if you do.

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

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER