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by JOSH

How Doritos led us to better understand the surprising mysteries of goats

POSTED January 17, 2013
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We have a television show coming out very soon called Stuff You Should Know,  about us doing what we do in real life, which is record podcasts on all manner of interesting things,  but set in a fictionalized version of our world. It premieres at 10 p.m. EST on Saturday, January 19 on Science, by the way. Anyway, this fictitiousness gives us lots of leeway in bending reality a bit. Like with the episode on alien hand syndrome, an exceedingly rare disorder of the nervous system where one hand is not connected in any meaningful way to the parts of the brain that govern executive functions of things along the lines of, “Man, I like to have a sip of that coffee over there. Hand, grab that coffee cup and bring it to my lips for a nice sip.” Yet the hand remains connected to the motor strip, which means that it still has full movement, it just doesn’t submit to the tyranny of the frontal lobe. It plays by its own rules and seems to have a lot of fun with its unusual freedom: Alien hand sufferers have reported their hands slapping and attempting to choke them and other mischief.

In the alien hand episode of our TV show, we’re visited by a sufferer of the syndrome. This is where setting our show in a fictionalized version of our real world really pays off. We don’t know anyone with alien hand syndrome, as we said it’s exceedingly rare, so we just hired an actor to play one. This actor, a guy named Mark Ashworth, turned out to be a top-notch actor, so much so that we recently found out that he also stars in a commercial that is in competition to be the one that Doritos uses for its 2013 Super Bowl (can you mention the Super Bowl legally? Who knows.) It’s called Goat 4 Sale and you can see it below (you can also vote for it here if you like it). Mark is the guy with the beard who buys the goat.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4d8ZDSyFS2g

See? Pretty top-notch acting.

Now typically we wouldn’t dedicate a blog post to singing the praises of an actor we’ve been employed alongside but, in the first case, we really like his Doritos commercial and, secondly, it has led us down a fascinating path of learning about goats recently. As you may have noticed the goat in the commercial screamed twice. While those were human screams dubbed in, goats, we’ve learned, actually do scream – and yell – and it frequently sounds human. We had no idea about this. Here’s a good example of a goat’s ability to not just yell and spit but of its ability to engage in an argument with a human man:

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dp0Bt2cbcc8

Just as interesting, British researchers recently discovered that goats develop accents as they age as well. In very much the same way that someone raised in the Southern United States or Scotland tends to develop an accent that sounds similar to other people in their area (an evolutionary adaptation, perhaps, to help discern a possibly threatening outsider) so do goats develop accents that sound like others in their creche, or kin group.

Perhaps even more amazing, some types of goats faint. We actually recorded a pretty good episode of our podcast on that subject. These types of goats suffer from myotonia, which is a chemical deficiency that leads to a seizure of the muscles when the goats experience fear. When startled, the goats’ muscles receive a chemical message from positively-charged sodium ions to contract. This is part of the typical fight or flight response.  What’s atypical is that the goats’ muscles don’t immediately receive a follow-up message from opposing negative ions to relax. The goats — all stiff legs — fall over, appearing to faint. It’s pretty funny, watch:

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s5C6iizahDA

Again, this is fascinating stuff, and as we dug deeper we found there was even more about goats we didn’t know. We’d heard there was a kind of coffee that is collected from goat feces and roasted and consumed, but we hadn’t heard that some high-end types of Argan oil are harvested in the same way. That’s really more of a human thing than a goat thing, but we also learned that to get to this food source, the kernels of the Argan tree, some goats in Morocco have learned to climb trees. Goats have hooves. Go ahead click this link. It has some pretty amazing photos of goats in trees.

We mention all of this, we suppose, because it became clear to us that even in the middle of our lives as professional researchers something as seemingly ordinary as goats can still hold a lot of interesting surprises. And this kind of thing is what keeps us going.

***This post originally appeared on Huffington Post’s Weird News.

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