New Book Introduces Kids to Animal Science—Through Flatulence
“Does It Fart?: A Kid’s Guide to the Gas Animals Pass,” a new book by Nick Caruso M.S. ’11 and Dani Rabaiotti, helps introduce children to animal ecology and evolution.
Dani Rabaiotti is a Ph.D. candidate at the Zoological Society of London, but she couldn’t answer her brother’s question. Do snakes fart?
She sought expert advice on Twitter, where Nick Caruso M.S. ’11 chimed in with a hashtag that lingered: #doesitfart.
“Clearly, people want to know the answer to the question,” Caruso says.
Caruso and Rabaiotti started a Google spreadsheet listing animals that do and don’t, which turned into The New York Times bestseller “Does It Fart?: A Definitive Field Guide to Animal Flatulence,” released in April 2018 by Hachette. The inevitable companion book, “Does It Fart?: A Kid’s Guide to the Gas Animals Pass,” comes out today.
“We can use this sort of silly subject to approach it as a science communication tool and use it for educational purposes” to teach animal ecology and evolution, says Caruso. It also makes animals more real: “You might watch a nature show and think wildlife is so beautiful and majestic, and there are some things they do that aren’t so beautiful and majestic, like fart.”
Caruso, now a postdoc at Virginia Tech whose primary area of interest is amphibians and reptiles, has loved the animal world since he was a frog-catching kid outside St. Louis. He started a master’s degree at Southern Illinois University, but when his adviser, biology Professor Karen Lips, moved to UMD, so did he.
He never thought that flatulence would be his ticket to a book deal. The hashtag, he says, was suggested “kind of in jest, but also sort of seriously.” He and Rabaiotti—who only knew each other vaguely through Twitter and have still never met in person—started their spreadsheet just for the sake of learning. “It seemed to take a life of its own,” he says, and soon, Hachette came calling. Coverage in Vox, The New York Post and People magazine followed.
Reviews suggested that parents wanted to share it with their kids, but that some of the scientific terms used were confusing. The new book is a slimmed-down, easier-to-digest (pun intended) adaptation.
Caruso’s favorite critter in the book? The beaded lacewing, which uses gas to catch its prey, termites. “They lay their eggs near termite nests … so it gets into their nest and goes up to a termite and essentially farts right in its face, because it produces this chemical that paralyzes the termite,” he says. Dinner is served.
Still have an appetite for material from Caruso and Rabaiotti? They’re also behind “True or Poo?: The Definitive Field Guide to Filthy Animal Facts and Falsehoods” and in October will release their next book, “Believe It or Snot: The Definitive Field Guide to Earth’s Slimy Creatures.”
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