David Savill via Getty Images
David Savill via Getty Images

How Pit Ponies Replaced Children in the Coal Mines

David Savill via Getty Images
David Savill via Getty Images

As cute and cuddly as miniature horses are, their work history is more complex than giving children rides at birthday parties or carting around small carriages. In 1838, the Huskar Colliery coal mine in northern England flooded, drowning 26 children who were working in the depths of the mine as trappers and hurriers. Queen Victoria demanded an inquiry, and within a few years, Parliament passed an act banning children under 10 years old (and women) from working underground as coal miners. Although the Mines Act of 1842 was a boon to child workers, it meant that the mining industry needed a way to replace all those tiny workers. The answer was to greatly increase the number of mini horses, called pit ponies, used to work in the mines. Today’s American Miniature Horses—defined as small yet proportional horses that measure 34 inches or lessdescend from the bloodline of these pit pony coal miners. 

Pit ponies’ strength made them able to pull heavy carts, and their small size allowed them to maneuver in cramped mine conditions. In 1913, as many as 70,000 pit ponies worked underground in Britain’s coal mines. Different breeds were suited to different mining activities. For example, Shetland ponies’ strength, sturdiness, and intelligence made them well suited for carrying coal over rough, uneven terrain, while donkeys and mules were more common in Pennsylvania mines. Likewise, different types of coal necessitated differing work conditions for the ponies. For instance, pit ponies in bituminous (soft black coal) collieries in Wales were stabled above ground and could walk in and out of tunnels constructed on sloping hills. Other ponies that worked to extract anthracite (hard) coal had to be put in a cage and lowered into the shaft mines. Any time all the workers in a particular mine went on strike or took vacation, every pony had to be lifted back up above ground, one by one.

The National Coal Board strictly regulated the use of pit ponies as mine workers, and the British Coal Mines Act of 1911 required that before they could start work, ponies had to be at least 4 years old, examined by a veterinarian, and fit with proper horseshoes. Most ponies worked 8-hour days and were paired up with one miner/handler, so that human and horse could build a trusting, long-term relationship. Although a few reports suggest that some pit ponies were mistreated, the majority of ponies seem to have been treated well. They slept in clean stables, ate a plentiful supply of corn or hay, drank fresh water, and worked fewer hours as they aged (most lived until their late teens or early 20s).

A pit pony in 1920. Central Press // Getty Images

Although technological advances eventually made pit ponies obsolete, the small horses still carried coal in small, private mines in Europe, and in Appalachia in the United States, until the 1950s. In the 1960s, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals worked with the National Coal Board to help find homes for retired pit ponies. Retirement came with its own set of challenges, for pit ponies were unaccustomed to living above ground in "normal" conditions, sans work schedules and handlers. Some of these equine retirees became stressed since they didn’t even know how to graze on grass. However, at least they got to live above ground rather than be sold for horse meat, a humane way for these ponies, who helped generate electricity and power civilization, to spend their last days.

Sploot 101: 12 Animal Slang Words Every Pet Parent Should Know

For centuries, dogs were dogs and cats were cats. They did things like bark and drink water and lay down—actions that pet parents didn’t need a translator to understand.

Then the internet arrived. Scroll through the countless Facebook groups and Twitter accounts dedicated to sharing cute animal pictures and you’ll quickly see that dogs don’t have snouts, they have snoots, and cats come in a colorful assortment of shapes and sizes ranging from smol to floof.

Pet meme language has been around long enough to start leaking into everyday conversation. If you're a pet owner (or lover) who doesn’t want to be out of the loop, here are the terms you need to know.


You know your pet is fully relaxed when they’re doing a sploot. Like a split but for the whole body, a sploot occurs when a dog or cat stretches so their bellies are flat on the ground and their back legs are pointing behind them. The amusing pose may be a way for them to take advantage of the cool ground on a hot day, or just to feel a satisfying stretch in their hip flexors. Corgis are famous for the sploot, but any quadruped can do it if they’re flexible enough.


Person holding Marnie the dog.
Emma McIntyre, Getty Images for ASPCA

Unlike most items on this list, the word derp isn’t limited to cats and dogs. It can also be a stand-in for such expressions of stupidity as “duh” or “dur.” In recent years the term has become associated with clumsy, clueless, or silly-looking cats and dogs. A pet with a tongue perpetually hanging out of its mouth, like Marnie or Lil Bub, is textbook derpy.


Cat laying on desk chair.
PoppetCloset, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

If you’ve ever caught a cat or dog poking the tip of its tongue past its front teeth, you’ve seen a blep in action. Unlike a derpy tongue, a blep is subtle and often gone as quickly as it appears. Animal experts aren’t entirely sure why pets blep, but in cats it may have something to do with the Flehmen response, in which they use their tongues to “smell” the air.


Mlems and bleps, though very closely related, aren’t exactly the same. While blep is a passive state of being, mlem is active. It’s what happens when a pet flicks its tongue in and out of its mouth, whether to slurp up water, taste food, or just lick the air in a derpy fashion. Dogs and cats do it, of course, but reptiles have also been known to mlem.


Very fluffy cat.
J. Sibiga Photography, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Some pets barely have any fur, and others have coats so voluminous that hair appears to make up most of their bodyweight. Dogs and cats in the latter group are known as floofs. Floofy animals will famously leave a wake of fur wherever they sit and can squeeze through tight spaces despite their enormous mass. Samoyeds, Pomeranians, and Persian cats are all prime examples of floofs.


Dog outside barking.

According to some corners of the internet, dogs don’t bark, they bork. Listen carefully next time you’re around a vocal doggo and you won’t be able to unhear it.


Shiba inu smiling up at the camera.

Speaking of doggos: This word isn’t hard to decode. Every dog—regardless of size, floofiness, or derpiness—can be a doggo. If you’re willing to get creative, the word can even be applied to non-dog animals like fennec foxes (special doggos) or seals (water doggos). The usage of doggo saw a spike in 2016 thanks to the internet and by the end of 2017 it was listed as one of Merriam-Webster’s “Words We’re Watching.”


Tiny kitten in grass.

Some pets are so adorably, unbearably tiny that using proper English to describe them just doesn’t cut it. Not every small pet is smol: To earn the label, a cat or dog (or kitten or puppy) must excel in both the tiny and cute departments. A pet that’s truly smol is likely to induce excited squees from everyone around it.


Hands holding a puppy.

Like doggo, pupper is self-explanatory: It can be used in place of the word puppy, but if you want to use it to describe a fully-grown doggo who’s particularly smol and cute, you can probably get away with it.

10. BOOF

We’ve already established that doggos go bork, but that’s not the only sound they make. A low, deep bark—perhaps from a dog that can’t decide if it wants to expend its energy on a full bark—is best described as a boof. Consider a boof a warning bark before the real thing.


Dog noses poking out beneath blanket.

Snoot was already a dictionary-official synonym for nose by the time dog meme culture took the internet by storm. But while snoot is rarely used to describe human faces today, it’s quickly becoming the preferred term for pet snouts. There’s even a wholesome viral challenge dedicated to dogs poking their snoots through their owners' hands.

12. BOOP

Have you ever seen a dog snoot so cute you just had to reach out and tap it? And when you did, was your action accompanied by an involuntary “boop” sound? This urge is so universal that boop is now its own verb. Humans aren’t the only ones who can boop: Search the word on YouTube and treat yourself to hours of dogs, cats, and other animals exchanging the love tap.

Carnivorous Hammerhead Flatworms Are Invading France

It’s no hammerhead shark, but the hammerhead flatworm has become a real menace in France. Or at least a menace to earthworms, as Earther reports.

Believed to be an invasive species from Asia, the hammerhead flatworm was only recently recorded in France, as is documented in a new study (titled "Giant worms chez moi!") published in the journal PeerJ. However, based on reports, photographs, and videos sent in by citizens across the country, scientists determined the pests have gone undetected for nearly 20 years. This came as a shock, especially because the worms can measure more than a foot in length.

In recent years, three species of the carnivorous worm have quietly taken over French gardens and have even been spotted in metropolitan areas. Some species immobolize their prey with tetrodotoxin, the same powerful neurotoxin that makes pufferfish so poisonous. The worms secrete digestive enzymes, allowing them to dissolve earthworms and slugs their size.

Jean-Lou Justine, co-author of the study, says their eating habits are a concern. "Earthworms are a major component of the soil biomass and a very important element in the ecology of soils," Justine tells Earther. "Any predator which can diminish the populations of earthworms is thus a threat to soil ecology."

Archie Murchie, an entomologist who was not involved in the study, told The Washington Post that the worms will continue to spread in step with global trade. The worms were also seen in overseas French territories, including one worm with a blue-green hue that is probably a newly detected species, Murchie tells the newspaper.

[h/t Earther]


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