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When you need to know why fish fart

September 2, 2009 | 12:32 pm


OK, chances are no one ever needs to know why fish fart. But those interested in such odd factoids -- who might gleefully explain that the bubbles coming from the backside of a cod are not technically farts but those near a herring's are -- will find Francesca Gould's new book "Why Fish Fart & Other Useless or Gross Information About the World" is just what they've been waiting for.

Chock-full of anecdotes, the book is divided into not-your-usual-table-talk chapters: "obscene cuisine," "weird creatures," "vile bodies," "pernicious practices," "disgusting diseases, curious cures, and savage tortures." Not all the blurbs are entirely revelatory -- you've probably heard that Aztecs practiced human sacrifice and that jackals regurgitate to feed their young. But many are strange enough to keep the curious paging through for the next curiosity.  Here's a super-truncated version:

Q: What is the world's tastiest insect?
A: This is a matter of taste, but the author recommends the Australian Honey ant, which "stores so much of a sugary fluid in its body that its hind end swells up into a ball that is big enough to eat. ... They say it's just like eating honey, only crunchier."

Q: Can it really rain frogs and fish?
A: Yes.

Q: Could cat ear mites live in a human ear?
A: Yes, and eww, a doctor experimented on himself.

Q: How clean is your toothbrush?
A: Don't ask.

Gould, whose first book was "Why You Shouldn't Eat Your Boogers and Other Useless (or Gross) Information About Your Body," has a knack for making the gross, um, digestible reading. It's a fun little book, if not for everyone.

As for those farting herrings? The escaping air emits a high-pitched sound that scientists think is used to communicate with other herrings at night. No other fish can detect the noise of their emissions: The herring farts are silent (if not deadly) .

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo credit: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times