ZSL PhD student Daniella Rabaiotti has co-authored 'Does it Fart', which is now available to buy in the UK. Here she explains how the idea for the book came about.
As a PhD student at ZSL, and graduate in zoology, I often get asked a lot of questions about animals, varying from the interesting to the downright bizarre. In January this year a member of my family asked me ‘do snakes fart’. It was a question that would turn out to have surprising repercussions.
I realised I did not know whether snakes farted, but I knew someone who would – David Steen, a wildlife biologist and snake expert at Auburn University. I got in touch with him through Twitter, asking whether snakes farted (‘Sigh, yes’ was the answer!). Zoologists quickly realised that we get this question a lot about animals, and it quickly spawned a hashtag - #DoesItFart. In the true nature of science I proposed we begin a spreadsheet of animal species and whether they fart or don’t, and zoologists, ecologists, and pet owners swiftly began filling in their own species and anecdotes about animal farts.
Did you know that herring use farts to communicate? And that a scientific paper about this won the authors an IgNobel prize? Beaded lacewing larvae have literally deadly farts – they produce a chemical from their rear ends that kills termites, which they then devour. Researchers of chimps and baboons often locate their study animals using the sound of the primate’s farts, which vary in volume depending on what they have been eating. And hyena farts smell worse after they have been eating camel intestines. These are just some of the gems that we found out through our #DoesItFart spreadsheet (and if this interests you you can find out more in our book!).
So far, so fun. But within a few weeks it had been picked up by media outlets, in particular Gizmodo and Washington Post, who wrote articles about scientists populating a database about animal farts. From there it blew up. I appeared on Canadian TV, radio, podcasts, in the Times and various other websites and print media, all to talk about our animal fart database. Around a month after the initial hashtag I had an email in my inbox from the hashtag starter – Nick Caruso, a PhD student at Alabama University – explaining that Quercus, a UK publisher, would like to offer us a book deal, and asking if I was up for it. Of course I said yes.
From there we spent our weekends researching and writing the book, scanning the scientific literature, tweeting database contributors to gather anecdotes and emailing experts to check out our facts. We also brought in webcomic illustrator and fellow Twitter contributor Ethan Kocak, who produced fantastic illustrations based on our text. Our publishers were incredibly supportive and together we produced over 200 pages of humorous animal fart facts and pictures. And so, the book became reality, I co-authored a book with someone I have never met, and we became famous for animal farts.
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