“If you’re short of trouble, take a goat.”

This gif was circulating reddit a few weeks back and I thought it was pretty awesome so I did some more research on the subjects of the image, Fainting Goats:

A fainting goat is a variety of goat that experiences loss of muscle control and “faints” when it feels panic. Anyone with some free time should search out more Youtube videos of them in action (or rather, inaction).

Since fainting in the face of danger is an extremely disadvantageous trait to have in the wild, these goats are only found in domestic populations and fainting goats, also called myotonic goats, are actually bred to have this unique trait.

Beccause they are so unique, they are actually identified as their own species, though they are really just a variety of the common domestic goat. The first examples of them were recorded in the late 1800s and it seems that farmers were so amused by them they purposely bred them.

All colors and patterns of them exist, just as in regular populations. They are typically kept as pets and farmers find them easy to care for because they have difficulty escaping – the excitement of jumping a fence usually causes them to faint.

All fainting goats have a condition known as myotonia congenita, or Thomsen’s disease. The exact cause of the condition is unknown, though it is highly suspected to be the result of defective chloride channels in the muscle fiber or a deficiency of acetylcholine. Chloride ions and acetylcholine are both molecules necessary for proper muscle function by causing the muscles to contract – the molecules are released into muscle fibers and the muscles contract.

After they flex, normal muscles release the molecules back out through channels in the muscle fiber.  However, when panicked the muscles of individuals with myotonia congenita cannot release the molecules right away, causing a prolonged muscle contraction where the muscles cannot relax.

With this condition, panic causes the muscles the tense, however they do not relax as quickly as they should, resulting in a 10-20 second lapse where the animal’s muscles are frozen. They never actually lose consciousness. Nor do they feel pain with this condition – an explanation that breeders often cite when confronted by animal rights activists concerned with the intentional breeding of goats with the disorder.

Also, usually the older goats learn to associate panic with “fainting” and learn to brace themselves or lean up against something to prevent falling.

Still, though some are able to somewhat control their behavior, they only exist because humans love having them as pets. In the wild, this trait would never be passed on to a new generation because any individual that faints in panic would surely be the first prey to a predator. (This also contributes to another older use for fainting goats – for the protection of more valuable members of a herd. Often in predator-prone areas, fainting goats are kept alongside sheep so that if the flock is attacked by wild animals, the sheep will escape while the goat faints and does not escape.)

But for the most part, this species of goat is kept for its amusing behavior, and there are even festivals down south that honor the unique genetic situation that results in fainting goats.

“If you’re short of trouble, take a goat.”
~ Finnish saying

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