Not as odd as other creature features, but goats have often been at the centre of online viral content due to displaying some unusual behaviour, making them perfectly suited for this week’s feature. Ellen Daugherty reports
Not even a single creature, but actually the whole Capra genus, consisting of all domestic and wild goats, deserves a bit of attention from the creature feature column. So here are some of the most weird and wonderful aspects of these loveable mammals.
Goats have been domesticated for thousands of years, and are used for meat, dairy production, religious sacrifices, and often just as pets. They are social animals, and will congregate in groups, but they do not stay in flocks as sheep do. It has been suggested by scientists, at Queen Mary University, that goats are as intelligent and caring as dogs are. This makes them great pets, as they can form an emotional bond with their owners.
So much could be written about goat behaviour, but I’m going to focus on a few unusual traits that some goats have – some of which have stormed the internet.
The phenomenon of fainting goats
You have probably seen the videos on YouTube of younger goats seemingly freezing up and “fainting” in a stiff position. This behaviour is seen in some domestic goats after they have been startled, and is caused by a hereditary genetic disorder called myotonia congenita. It is painless, and just caused the goat to freeze up, and often fall over, for around 3 seconds. Researchers have said the spontaneous muscle contraction is likely to have been caused by an acetylcholine deficiency before birth. Acetylcholine is a neurotransmitter in the nervous system that is involved in activating muscle activity. The condition does not affect the overall health of a goat, and experts have said goats with this genetic condition also carry other vital genes that need to be conserved in the population. So it sounds like fainting goats won’t be disappearing from our screens any time soon.
Made famous by numerous nature documentaries, and even recently featured in David Attenborough’s Planet Earth 2, mountain goats are not domesticated, and can only be found in the North American rocky mountains. Their natural habitat is mountainous, so they need to be able to climb dangerous and rocky terrain just to get around. They also use it for predator avoidance from bears, wolves, and cougars, out-maneuvering their pursuers up and down cliff faces. They can climb practically vertical surfaces due to having cloven hooves that spread out whilst climbing, revealing an inner pad to provide friction to be able to grip to the surface. They also have sharp claws that often stop them from slipping.
OK, so not a behavioural trait, but have you ever wondered why goats have such creepy eyes with horizontal pupils? It is actually common in grazing prey animals, as it extends their peripheral vision to be able to look out for predators while they are feeding. The goats get a panoramic view of their surroundings, allowing them to spot threats, as well as accurately plotting their escape route in front of them, the horizontal pupils giving a higher image quality of objects ahead of them. This effect is lost if the pupils are vertical when they tilt their head to graze, so the goats make sure to constantly adjust their eye so the pupil is always horizontal to the ground.
With more than 924 million goats on the planet, it’s safe to say they are not top of the conservation list. Although some species of wild goat have smaller population numbers, very few are actually endangered.