Why Do Fainting Goats Faint?

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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.

What's the Difference Between Memorial Day and Veterans Day?

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iStock/flySnow

It may not be easy for some people to admit, but certain national holidays often get a little muddled—namely, Memorial Day and Veterans Day. In fact, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs sees the confusion often enough that they spelled out the distinction on their website. The two days are held six months apart: Veterans Day is celebrated every November 11, and Memorial Day takes place on the last Monday of May as part of a three-day weekend with parades and plenty of retail sales promotions. You probably realize both are intended to acknowledge the contributions of those who have served in the United States military, but you may not recall the important distinction between the two. So what's the difference?

Veterans Day was originally known as Armistice Day. It was first observed on November 11, 1919, the one-year anniversary of the end of World War I. Congress passed a resolution making it an annual observance in 1926. It became a national holiday in 1938. In 1954, President Dwight D. Eisenhower changed the name from Armistice Day to Veterans Day to recognize veterans of the two world wars. The intention is to celebrate all military veterans, living or dead, who have served the country, with an emphasis on thanking those in our lives who have spent time in uniform.

We also celebrate military veterans on Memorial Day, but the mood is more somber. The occasion is reserved for those who died while serving their country. The day was first observed in the wake of the Civil War, where local communities organized tributes around the gravesites of fallen soldiers. The observation was originally called Decoration Day because the graves were adorned with flowers. It was held May 30 because that date wasn't the anniversary for any battle in particular and all soldiers could be honored. (The date was recognized by northern states, with southern states choosing different days.) After World War I, the day shifted from remembering the fallen in the Civil War to those who had perished in all of America's conflicts. It gradually became known as Memorial Day and was declared a federal holiday and moved to the last Monday in May to organize a three-day weekend beginning in 1971.

The easiest way to think of the two holidays is to consider Veterans Day a time to shake the hand of a veteran who stood up for our freedoms. Memorial Day is a time to remember and honor those who are no longer around to receive your gratitude personally.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, send it to bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

What Is the Kitchen Like on the International Space Station?

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iStock/Elen11

Clayton C. Anderson:

The International Space Station (ISS) does not really have a "kitchen" as many of us here on Earth might relate to. But, there is an area called the "galley" which serves the purpose of allowing for food preparation and consumption. I believe the term "galley" comes from the military, and it was used specifically in the space shuttle program. I guess it carried over to the ISS.

The Russian segment had the ONLY galley when I flew in 2007. There was a table for three, and the galley consisted of a water system—allowing us to hydrate our food packages (as needed) with warm (tepid) or hot (extremely) water—and a food warmer. The food warmer designed by the Russians was strictly used for their cans of food (about the size of a can of cat food in America). The U.S. developed a second food warmer (shaped like a briefcase) that we could use to heat the more "flexibly packaged" foodstuffs (packets) sent from America.

Later in the ISS lifetime, a second galley area was provided in the U.S. segment. It is positioned in Node 1 (Unity) and a table is also available there for the astronauts' dining pleasures. Apparently, it was added because of the increasing crew size experienced these days (6), to have more options. During my brief visit to ISS in 2010 (12 days or so) as a Discovery crewmember, I found the mealtimes to be much more segregated than when I spent five months on board. The Russians ate in the Russian segment. The shuttle astronauts ate in the shuttle. The U.S. ISS astronauts ate in Node 1, but often at totally different times. While we did have a combined dinner in Node 1 during STS-131 (with the Expedition 23 crew), this is one of the perceived negatives of the "multiple-galley" scenario. My long duration stint on ISS was highlighted by the fact that Fyodor Yurchikhin, Oleg Kotov, and I had every single meal together. The fellowship we—or at least I—experienced during those meals is something I will never, ever forget. We laughed, we argued, we celebrated, we mourned …, all around our zero-gravity "dinner table." Awesome stuff!

This post originally appeared on Quora. Click here to view.

Clayton "Astro Clay" Anderson is an astronaut, motivational speaker, author, and STEAM education advocate.

His award-winning book The Ordinary Spaceman, Astronaut Edition Fisher Space Pen, and new children's books A is for Astronaut; Blasting Through the Alphabet and It's a Question of Space: An Ordinary Astronaut's Answers to Sometimes Extraordinary Questions are available at www.AstroClay.com. For speaking events www.AstronautClayAnderson.com. Follow @Astro_Clay #WeBelieveInAstronauts

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