Appliance of science: Do pigs dream?

Do pigs dream? This may seem like a very odd question, but if you shared a home with a pig obsessed six-year-old you might not be too surprised to be asked this over breakfast.

Do pigs dream? Studies suggest they do.

Pigs need about the same amount of sleep as we do. An adult pig will spend a little less than eight hours sleeping. Do they dream while catching some zees? Research suggests they do. Pigs go through a phase of sleep called the Rapid Eye Movement (REM) stage. In humans this is a deep sleep where most of our dreaming takes place. Scientists believe that pigs dream during the REM phase too, along with lots of other animals. Pigs spend about 10% of their sleep time in this REM state, compared to the 25% we spend in it. And while we are on the subject of REM, did you know that the duck-billed platypus spends a whopping 60% of its sleep time in REM? That is a lot of dreaming!

What else goes on in the brain of a pig? Pigs are thought of as dirty, sweaty, silly animal. None of that is actually true. Pigs are very clever, more clever than your average dog or three-year-old human. The brain of the pig is well able for complex tasks, like completing mazes and recognising symbols. Research shows that they have very good memory. There are even pigs that can complete jigsaw puzzles and play video games, moving the joystick with their snouts.

Mud, mud, glorious mud

Back to the mud wallowing. This bit is sometimes true but for very practical reasons. The first one debunks another pig myth because ‘sweating like a pig’ is actually a very misguided saying; pigs don’t sweat much at all. They have very few sweat glands. That can be a bit of a problem when it comes to keeping cool. They like to take baths in cooling water, if they have the chance, but if not, a big mud hole does just as well. The muddy water evaporates off their skin a lot more slowly than clean water, keeping the pig cooler for longer. Mud has lots of other benefits too, it can act as a sun screen, can ward off annoying insects and it is great for removing ticks and other undesirables, once the animal starts to scratch it off.

Eating like a pig

In the right environment, pigs have clean eating habits; they have been known to wash food before eating it. They like a varied diet and take their time over food. When given the chance, they keep their eating, sleeping and toilet separate.

Pig talk

Pigs are very social creatures. They communicate well together and can even learn from each other. They can cooperate together in order to source and share food and they also love to play. Scientists have recognised a number of different sounds that pigs make to communicate with each other.

From grunts to squeals they can let others know if they are happy, sad, feeling playful or stressed. Pigs are very empathic animals, they can form very close social bonds.

My favourite fact about pigs?

Mother pigs make a variety of noises while their piglets feed; it is said to help communicate with them, letting them know when to feed and how long to feed for.

The process is described as ‘singing’ to her babies, which I think is a perfect description, given that they are such affectionate and social animals, so often misunderstood.

Naomi is a science communicator and mother to three inquisitive children. She loves exploring life through the questions children ask. she can be found at sciencewows.ie

If your child has a question email drhowsciencewows@gmail.com

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