11 Things You Might Not Know About Pigs

iStock.com/t-lorien
iStock.com/t-lorien

Perhaps there's a reason pigs are a favorite of children and fairy tales alike—pigs are some of the most intelligent and social animals out there. In honor of this year's designation as Year of the Pig on the Chinese zodiac calendar, here are a few facts you may not know about these curly-tailed cuties.

1. Pigs were domesticated more than 9000 years ago.

Scientists estimate that pigs have been around for quite a long time. The omnivorous species is one of the oldest domesticated kinds of animals—behind only dogs and goats. Their wild ancestor is thought to be the Eurasian boar.

2. Pigs have very few sweat glands.

A pig in a mud puddle
iStock.com/ChristiLaLiberte

Think of a classic image of a pig—odds are, it's rolling around in the mud. On hot days, pigs like to wallow in mud not because they're dirty, but to cool off. Pigs' lack sweat glands that would otherwise release body heat, and their high body fat necessitates they find ways to not fry in the sun. The muck allows them to maintain their proper body temperature while also having some leisurely, wallowing self-care.

3. Pigs can be found on every continent except Antarctica.

Considering how long swine has been around, the reach of the world's pig species spans across the globe. Every continent has some population of pigs, boars, and hogs, with Antarctica the only exception.

4. Feral pigs cause more than $1 billion in damages annually in the U.S.

Wild boars walk across a field
iStock.com/JohnCarnemolla

Your typical piglet doesn't evoke any sense of danger, but feral pigs—and a growing number of invasive pigs—are another story. Wild pigs cause an estimated $1.5 billion in damage annually in the United States; their rooting for food can tear up farmland, trample crops and recreational areas, and push out other wildlife. Plus, they can carry disease risks that are more threatening to livestock and other domesticated animals, like dogs [PDF]. Pigs may not be trampling over city buildings like Godzilla, but their impact on agricultural land is widespread and significant.

5. There are more pigs in Denmark than humans.

Denmark has a larger population of pigs than human beings. Part of this has to do with its lucrative meat industry, with over 5000 pig farms producing around 28 million pigs, with 20 million being slaughtered each year. In contrast, Denmark's human population is 5 to 6 million people. The pig population is so valuable, in fact, that the country recently began building a $12 million wall to prevent wild boars (who could possibly carry African swine fever, a viral disease which is highly contagious and deadly to both wild and domestic pigs, but not humans) in neighboring Germany from invading Danish pig farms.

6. Pigs are video game pros.

Research at Penn State in the 1990s demonstrated that pigs, which are often perceived as being dirty and feeble-minded, have a remarkable aptitude for video games. The study showed that pigs are so smart that they were able to learn how to play a game involving a joystick better than chimpanzees and a Jack Russell terrier (a breed often used in movies because it is known for its intelligence and trainability).

7. Forty-six piglets were used to play the role of Wilbur in Charlotte's Web.

Wilbur, the main character in E.B. White’s timeless children's tale Charlotte's Web, is likely literature's most beloved pig. The 2006 movie adaptation of the same name seemingly knew as such and used 46 piglets to accurately portray the character on the big screen. Each and every one of the piglets was treated like Hollywood royalty: After filming wrapped, they were looked after and given new homes in Australia (where the film was shot). And, another pig from the movie also got a happy ending—the sow who played Wilbur's mother, who was later named Alice, went to live at an animal sanctuary with two of the piglets. Squeal!

8. Winston Churchill appreciated pigs.

Winston Churchill in London in 1922.
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Winston Churchill is best remembered for his leadership as the prime minister of the United Kingdom during World War II. It's somewhat of a shame that, lost in his sea of memorable speeches and quotes, his wise view on pigs went a bit unnoticed. "I am fond of pigs," Churchill once said. "Dogs look up to us. Cats look down on us. Pigs treat us as equals." In other words, dogs seek our approval, cats couldn't care less, but pigs, who are intelligent and sociable, are on more equal-footing with humans.

9. Some pigs know how to surf.

We told you pigs were smart. When they aren't playing barnyard bowling, basketball, or doing puzzles, sometimes they'll get their thrills from riding a wave. Hawaiian porcine celebrity Kamapua'a—otherwise known as Kama the Surfing Pig—goes boarding with his owner, Kai Holt, often enough that he has his surfing technique down. Kama's even good enough that he can take you out for a ride—via a GoPro, at least—and he's taught his piggie son, Kama 2, the ways of the Shaka life. Sounds like hog heaven.

10. Miss Piggy was originally named "Piggy Lee."

Miss Piggy attends a film premiere in 2011.
Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

Kermit the Frog may have his own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, but his romantic interest, Miss Piggy, is an icon in her own right. But before the diva was fully realized, she went by a slightly different name. According to handwritten notes and Polaroids from Muppets creator Jim Henson, Miss Piggy was originally named Piggy Lee, a reference to famed jazz singer Peggy Lee.

"When I first created Miss Piggy I called her Miss Piggy Lee—as both a joke and an homage," Muppet designer Bonnie Erickson told Smithsonian in 2008. "Peggy Lee was a very independent woman, and Piggy certainly is the same." But, like many a starlet destined for the limelight, Piggy Lee needed her name to be more original. And also, "as Piggy's fame began to grow, nobody wanted to upset Peggy Lee," Erickson added, "especially because we admired her work."

11. The piggy bank originated from pygg pots.

A pink piggy bank
iStock.com/AnthiaCumming

As a kid, you saved all your spare change in one particular safekeeping storage item: the piggy bank. But of all the animals in the world, why did the pig get all of the glory?

In the 13th to 15th centuries, one of the most common places for people to store their money was in jars made of orange-colored clay called "pygg." As the English language evolved, that word eventually became pig or piggy. Whether by accident or design, around the 19th century manufacturers began molding little pots into the shape of pigs, and eventually piggy banks were all the rage. So next time you bring home a little extra bacon, you know where to put it.

Massive Swarms of Migrating Dragonflies Are So Large They’re Popping Up on Weather Radar

emprised/iStock via Getty Images
emprised/iStock via Getty Images

What do Virginia, Pennsylvania, Indiana, and Ohio all have in common? Epic swarms of dragonflies, among other things.

WSLS-TV reports that this week, weather radar registered what might first appear to be late summer rain showers. Instead, the green blotches turned out to be swarms of dragonflies—possibly green darners, a type of dragonfly that migrates south during the fall.

Norman Johnson, a professor of entomology at The Ohio State University, told CNN that although these swarms happen occasionally, they’re definitely not a regular occurrence. He thinks the dragonflies, which usually prefer to travel alone, may form packs based on certain weather conditions. If that sounds vague, it’s because it is: Johnson said that entomologists haven’t worked out all the details when it comes to dragonfly migration. They do know that the airborne insects cover an average of eight miles per day, while some overachievers can fly as far as 86.

Based on the radar footage shared by the National Weather Service’s Cleveland Office, the dragonfly clouds seem almost menacing. But, while swarms of any insect species aren’t exactly delightful, these creatures are both harmless and surprisingly beautiful, at least up close. Anna Barnett, a resident of Jeromesville, Ohio, even told CNN that witnessing the natural phenomenon was “amazing!”

Amazing as it may be to see, it’s hard to hear news about unpredictable animal behavior without wondering if it’s related in some way to Earth’s rising temperatures. After all, climate change has already affected wasps in Alabama, polar bears in Russia, and no doubt countless other animal species around the world.

[h/t WSLW-TV]

6 Fall Festivals Around the World That Celebrate Animals

Prakash Mathema, AFP/Getty Images
Prakash Mathema, AFP/Getty Images

Where would humans be without animals? Chickens and cows give us eggs and milk, providing nourishment (and also cake). Horses, donkeys, and water buffalo are as hardworking as any person, and thanks to our pets, we always have a source of love and entertainment to come home to. It's time we celebrate animals more often, and to get you started, here are six fall festivals around the world that do just that.

1. Kukur Tihar

Dog in Nepal during a fall festival
Tuayai/iStock via Getty Images

A big part of Tihar, a five-day Hindu festival held in late autumn in Nepal, is giving thanks to other species. Crows, believed to be the messengers of death, are worshipped on the first day. Cows are worshipped on the third, and often oxen on the fourth. The second day, though, is all about man's best friend. Dogs are described favorably in Hindu religious texts, and it’s believed that they can warn people of impending danger and even death. In a ceremony called Kukur Tihar, people place flower garlands around the necks of both pet dogs and stray dogs to show their respect. A red dot (tika) is placed on their foreheads in an act of worship, and naturally, the dogs are spoiled with lots and lots of treats.

2. Transhumance Festival

Hundreds of sheep in the street
Pierre Philippe Marcou, AFP/Getty Images

In Spanish, this festival in Madrid is called Fiesta de la Trashumancia. The word transhumance refers to the act of moving herds of livestock to different grazing grounds depending on the season. In practice, it's quite the spectacle. Thousands of sheep have been led through the streets of Madrid each autumn since the festival was formally established in 1994. Men and women in traditional garb lead the way, singing and dancing along the parade route in celebration of centuries-old shepherding traditions.

3. Monkey Buffet Festival

A monkey eating various kinds of fruit
Saeed Khan, AFP/Getty Images

Visitors to Thailand’s temples are advised not to feed the monkeys (they can get awfully handsy), but the locals of Lopburi make an exception on the last Sunday of November. On this day, towers of fruit and banquet tables containing several tons of food and even cans of Coca-Cola are set up in the ruins of a 13th-century temple. Once a sheet is removed to unveil the spread, it doesn’t take long for Lopburi’s thousands of macaques to arrive. Thailand's reverence for monkeys dates back some 2000 years to legends surrounding the monkey king Hanuman and his heroic feats. Nowadays, the creatures are considered a sign of good luck in the country.

4. Woolly Worm Festival

The woolly worm is to Banner Elk, North Carolina, what the groundhog is to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. According to local folklore, the color of this fuzzy caterpillar can be analyzed in autumn to predict how severe the forthcoming winter will be. The 13 segments on its body are thought to correspond to the 13 weeks of winter—more black means colder weather and snow, while more brown means the weather will be fair. To make this prognostication process more official, the Woolly Worm Festival was established on the third weekend of October in 1978. This year, it will be held October 20-21. A worm race is the main event, and the caterpillar that climbs the fastest up three feet of string gets the honor of helping to predict the winter (plus a $1000 cash prize for the worm’s coach). “Patsy Climb” and “Dale Wormhardt” were a couple of past competitors.

5. Pushkar Camel Fair

Decorated camels
Roberto Schmidt, AFP/Getty Images

The Indian state of Rajasthan is a vibrant place. It’s home to the Pink City, Blue City, and Yellow City, and it also hosts a colorful cultural event each November called the Pushkar Camel Fair. Celebrated on a full moon day of the Hindu lunar calendar, it’s one of the largest fairs of its kind in the world. The annual gathering is a chance for traders to show off their camels and livestock, while also celebrating local culture and traditions. Both the people and camels sport brilliant attire, participate in a variety of competitions, and dance to lively music. (Yes, there’s video evidence of a dancing camel, but the word dance is used loosely.)

6. Birds of Chile Festival

Held each fall in Viña del Mar along Chile's Pacific coast, the Festival de Aves de Chile celebrates the beauty and diversity of the country's birds. Festival-goers have the chance to see Chile’s national bird—the wide-winged Andean condor, which happens to be one of the largest flying birds in the world—as well as other feathered friends in their natural environment. A series of excursions and talks featuring bird experts are organized each year.

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