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15 Amazing Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Goats

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Goats and humans have a long and productive history together. Over the millennia, we’ve found a range of interesting uses for these incredible animals—which are also capable of some unbelievable feats of their own. To celebrate National Dairy Goat Awareness Week, here are 15 amazing facts about goats.

1. GOATS WERE ONE OF—IF NOT THE—FIRST ANIMALS TO BE DOMESTICATED.

The great goat domestication took place about 11,000 years ago in the Near East. The event was a pivotal moment in human history that represented a key shift of mankind from hunter-gatherers to agriculture-based societies.

2. GOATS WERE AMONG THE FIRST ANIMALS TO BE BROUGHT TO AMERICA.

The earliest European settlers of America brought goats over on the Mayflower. By 1630, a Jamestown census listed goats as one of that colony’s most valuable possessions.

3. GOAT POPULARITY SURGED FOLLOWING THE 1904 WORLD’S FAIR IN ST. LOUIS.

The fair was host to the first dairy goat show in America as well as an exhibit featuring 300 Angora goats, the most ever shown at one time. With their heavy coats of curly mohair, the Angoras drew swarms of fans to the Louisiana Purchase Exposition and increased national recognition for the breed.

4. GIVING BIRTH IS CALLED “KIDDING.”

You may know that a baby goat is called a kid, but did you know that, because of that, a goat giving birth is said to be “kidding”? We’re not … joking.

5. GOATS DON’T HAVE TEETH ON THEIR UPPER JAW.

Instead, they just have a strong dental pad. They do, however, have an incredibly mobile upper lip that helps them to sort through spiny, thorny twigs to find plants’ tender leaves.

6. GOATS HAVE RECTANGULAR PUPILS.

This unusual shape, shared by sheep and several other ungulates, gives them a fuller range of vision than humans and other animals with round pupils. Goats can see 320 to 340 degrees in their periphery—everything except for what’s directly behind them—which is useful in avoiding predators. The drawback to the flattened pupil is that goats are unable to look up or down without moving their heads.

7. GOATS HAVE FOUR STOMACHS.

The four-chambered stomach helps goats digest tough roughage like grass and hay. Food enters the rumen first and then passes to the honeycombed reticulum where non-digestible objects are separated out. In the omasum chamber, water is removed from the food before it finally enters the “true” stomach, the abomasums.

8. GOAT’S MILK IS THE MOST POPULAR KIND OF MILK WORLDWIDE.

Even though we drink cow’s milk almost exclusively here in the States, around the globe more people eat and drink meat and milk from goats than any other animal.

9. THERE’S GOOD REASON TO DRINK GOAT’S MILK, TOO.

It’s naturally homogenized (meaning it doesn’t separate out into layers in its original state) and is easier to digest than cow’s milk, even by people who are lactose intolerant. It’s also higher in calcium and vitamin A.

10. “FAINTING” GOATS DON’T REALLY FAINT, BUT THEY SURE LOOK LIKE THEY DO.

One of the more remarkable species of goats is the myotonic goat, better known as the fainting goat. Because of a genetic quirk, when they get excited or startled, myotonic goats’ muscles freeze up, causing them to topple over. They’re not actually fainting—they remain totally conscious and their muscles return to normal within minutes or seconds—but the notable behavior has made them Internet favorites.

11. ABRAHAM LINCOLN LOVED GOATS.

Among the many pets that populated the White House during Abraham Lincoln’s time in office were two goats, Nanny and Nanko. They were particularly beloved by Lincoln’s son, Tad, who even used them for chariot rides around the White House.

12. CASHMERE COMES FROM GOATS.

The incredibly soft and expensive cashmere is made of the downy winter undercoat produced by certain goats. The price of cashmere is so high because the hand-wrought process of separating the silky material from the goat’s wiry outer coat is incredibly time-consuming. And, it takes at least two goats to make every sweater.

13. ACCORDING TO LEGEND, GOATS DISCOVERED COFFEE.

According to an Ethiopian legend, the stimulating properties of coffee were discovered when a goat herder found his flock frolicking with extra verve after consuming the red berries of the coffee shrub. The plant had the same energizing effect on the herder himself—and with that, the tradition of drinking coffee was (supposedly) born.

14. GOATS HAVE INCREDIBLE AGILITY AND BALANCE.

Not only can they survive in precarious rocky habitats, they can even climb trees.

15. GOATS HAVE ACCENTS.

Just as human voices will vary in cadence and inflection by geographical region, a particular goat’s bleat will sound different from that of a goat in a different country.

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Animals
25 Benefits of Adopting a Rescue Dog
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According to the ASPCA, 3.3 million dogs enter shelters each year in the United States. Although that number has gone down since 2011 (from 3.9 million) there are still millions of dogs waiting in shelters for a forever home. October is Adopt a Shelter Dog Month; here are 25 benefits of adopting a shelter dog.

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Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 37.406E
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Art
New Smithsonian Exhibit Explains Why Felines Were the Cat's Meow in Ancient Egypt
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Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 37.406E

From bi-coastal cat cafes to celebrity pets like Lil Bub, felines are currently enjoying a peak moment in popular culture. That’s part of the reason why curators at the Smithsonian’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery—which will re-open to visitors on Saturday, October 14, following a 3-month closure—decided to dedicate a new exhibition to ancient Egypt’s relationship with the animals.

Divine Felines: Cats of Ancient Egypt” looks at the cultural and religious importance of cats, which the Egyptians appreciated long before YouTube was a thing and #caturday was a hashtag. It's based on a traveling exhibition that began at the Brooklyn Museum in New York City. On view until January 15, 2018, it's one of several exhibits that will kick off the grand reopening of the Smithsonian’s Freer and Sackler galleries, the conjoined national museums of Asian and Middle Eastern Art.

The Freer has been closed since January 2016 for major renovations, and the Sackler since July 2016 for minor ones. The upgraded institutions will make their public debut on October 14, and be feted by a free two-day festival on the National Mall.

Featuring 80 artworks and relics, ranging from figurines of leonine deities to the tiny coffins of beloved pets, "Divine Felines" even has a cat mummy on loan from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. These objects span from the Middle Kingdom (2008 to 1630 BCE) to the Byzantine period (395 to 642 CE).

An ancient Egyptian metal weight shaped like a cat, dating back to 305 to 30 BCE, on view at the Smithsonian’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery
Weight in Form of a Cat, 305 to 30 BCE, Bronze, silver, lead
Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 36.114

The term “cat” is used loosely, as the Egyptians celebrated domestic mousers and fearsome predators alike.

“The Egyptians were close observers of nature, so they were observing cat behaviors,” Antonietta Catanzariti, the exhibition's in-house curator, tells Mental Floss. “They noticed that cats and lions— in general, felines—have aggressive and protective aspects, so they associated those attributes to deities.”

The ancient Egyptians viewed their gods as humans, animals, or mixed forms. Several of these pantheon members were both associated with and depicted as cats, including Bastet, the goddess of motherhood, fertility, and protection; and Sakhmet, the goddess of war and—when appeased—healing. She typically has a lion head, but in some myths she appears as a pacified cat.

A limestone sculptor's model of a walking lion, on display at the Smithsonian's Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.
Sculptor's Model of a Walking Lion, ca. 664 to 630 BCE, limestone
Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 33.190

While Bastet was a nurturer, Sakhmet—whose name means “The Powerful One”—could use her mighty force to either slay or safeguard humanity. These characterizations are typical of the ancient Egyptian worldview, which perceived the universe in dualistic terms. “There’s always a positive and a negative,” Catanzariti explains.

Contrary to popular belief, however, ancient Egyptians did not view cats themselves as gods. “The goddess Sakhmet does have the features as a lion, or in some cases as a cat, but that doesn’t mean that the Egyptians were worshipping cats or lions,” Catanzariti says. Instead, they were simply noting and admiring her feline traits. This practice, to an extent, also extended to royalty. Kings were associated with lions and other large cats, as they were the powerful protectors of ancient Egypt’s borders.

These myriad associations prompted Egyptians to adorn palaces, temples, protective amulets, ceremonial vessels, and accessories with cat images. Depending on their context, these renderings symbolized everything from protection and power to beauty and sexuality. A king’s throne might have a lion-shaped support, for example, whereas a woman’s cosmetics case might be emblazoned with a cat-headed female goddess of motherhood and fertility.

An ancient Egyptian figurine of a standing lion-headed goddess, on display at the Smithsonian's Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.
Figurine of a Standing Lion-Headed Goddess, 664 to 630 BCE, Faience
Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 37.943E

While cats were linked with heavenly figures and kings, they were also popular domestic pets. Their ability to catch vermin made them an important addition to households, and owners loved and anthropomorphized their pets just like we do today.

Egyptians often named, or nicknamed, their children after animals; Miit (cat) was a popular moniker for girls. It's said that entire households shaved their eyebrows in mourning if a house cat died a natural death. Some also believe that cats received special legal protection. (Not all cats were this lucky, however, as some temples bred kittens specifically to offer their mummified forms to the gods.) If a favorite cat died, the Egyptians would bury them in special decorated coffins, containers, and boxes. King Tutankhamen, for example, had a stone sarcophagus constructed just for his pet feline.

An ancient Egyptian bronze cat head adorned with gold jewelry, on display at the Smithsonian's Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.
Cat's Head, 30 BCE. to third century CE, bronze, gold
Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 36.114

“Divine Felines” breaks down these facts, and more, into five thematic sections, including “Cats and Kings"; “Cats and Gods”; “Cats and Death”; “Cats and Protection”; and “Dogs as Guardians and Hunters.” Yes, there’s also an exhibition section for dog lovers—“a small one,” Catanzariti laughs, that explains why canines were associated with figures like Anubis, the jackal-headed god of mummification and the afterlife.

Did the ancient Egyptians prefer cats to dogs? “I would say that both of them had different roles,” Catanzariti says, as dogs were valued as hunters, scavengers, and guards. “They were appreciated in different ways for their ability to protect or be useful for the Egyptian culture.” In this way, "Divine Felines" is targeted to ailurophiles and canophiliacs alike, even if it's packaged with pointed ears and whiskers.

An ancient Egyptian cat coffin, on display at the Smithsonian's Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.
Coffin for a Cat, 664 to 332 BCE, or later, Wood, gesso, paint, animal remains
Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 37.1944Ea-b

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