Hello, Matt: My neighbors have a horse, and they told me that the horse sleeps standing up. After that I tried to see if I could see the horse do that, and I think I did. The horse didn’t move at all and seemed to be sleeping. Are my neighbors right? Can a horse sleep standing up? Why would it do that? — Wondering Kid, El Cajon
True thing, Kid. Horses can and most often do sleep on all fours. Not too unusual in the animal world, but horses are the ones closest to us and the ones we’d most often see. I guess, compared to us, snugged up on a softie king mattress or a sleeping bag, it does seem stupid to doze off flat-footed, but from a horse’s-eye view, it’s smart thinking. Horses and other hoofed herd animals can catnap on foot for a simple, life-preserving reason: when that stealthy predator creeps up from the underbrush, they’re instantly prepared to leg it out of there. They don’t have to haul themselves up on their feet; as soon as they wake up, they’re ready to run, Horses descend from wild herd ancestors; we’re the ones who’ve penned them and isolated them from wild predators. They still have their old instincts.
Another good reason for a horse not to lay down for prolonged periods is because, as grazers, they have big guts for their slow digestion. Laying down, horses’ guts apply pressure to internal organs, including the lungs, and risk suffocation. So, a brief nap on the ground is possible. Extended sleep is risky. When a horse feels safe, it might sack out on a soft patch of grass or dirt.
So, howz he do it? Clever construction of a horse’s legs, basically. Their “knee” joints can lock in such a way that their legs can support their body weight without conscious thought. Their legs lock, and surrounding tendons and ligaments cradle their bodies like a sling, and they doze away.
Elephants, flamingos, giraffes are other famous stand-up sleepers. Giraffes sleep groundwise occasionally as babies, but after that, never again. No explanation needed, of course. Just imagine the trainwreck of a giraffe collapsing to the ground and untangling all that leggage to stand up again. Flamingos also use the knee-lock trick (actually, that big joint lump in the bird’s leg is its ankle, according to the science guys). But anyway, it locks its leg and dozes. Oh, and astronauts sleep upright, too, strapped in. And whales and dolphins have to avoid drowning, so they let half their brains sleep while the other half keeps alert.
Matt: It’s kind of a gross question, but that doesn’t make it any less worth wondering about. In the cold I can see my breath, but how come I can’t see my farts? — Matt, Vienna
Heck, Matt, it makes the question more worth wondering about. Everybody needs the answer to this, even though they didn’t know they needed it until you asked it. Consider it a public service.
A fart and a sigh might seem like twin exhalations from opposite ends of the same tube. But no, my friend. When you breathe out, you’re ridding your body of the by-products of respiration. Those by-products are carbon dioxide and water. When you fart you’re ridding your body of the by-products of bacterial action on undigested cellulose and carbs in your lower gut. These by-products are nitrogen, oxygen, carbon dioxide, methane, and perhaps hydrogen sulfide. More than 50 percent of your fart will be carbon dioxide and hydrogen.
So, what do you see when you see your breath? It’s the moisture you exhale as it moves from the warmth of your body to the cold outside. Warm air can hold more moisture than cold air can, so outside your body the moisture condenses and becomes visible. A fart doesn’t have the requisite water content, so we have no similar telltale butt cloud.
Hey, Matt: What if I’m blind and deaf and in a wheelchair, and for some reason I end up doing 10 to 20 in Sing Sing. Can I take my guide dog? And how do I keep from becoming someone’s bitch? — Blind Justice, downtown
Unless your guide dog was the getaway driver, he gets a pass on the incarceration. To end up in Sing Sing, you’d have to move to New York. You can launch a perfectly respectable criminal career here in CA, so let’s consider the local system.
Actually, there are plenty of inmates in wheelchairs, permanently or temporarily. Shot by cops, gangsters, their girlfriends. Or someone breaks both legs in a prison fight or basketball game. No other medical needs? You’re treated pretty much like any other inmate, except you have first dibs on the lower bunk. On the yard, you protect yourself the traditional way: get someone to watch your back. Attitude and a pal are your best safety tips.