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Why 'Fainting Goats' Really Collapse in Fear

Startled by the sudden motion of a swing, this goat's bizarre response to fear caused it to momentarily collapse in fear.

This Swing Is Just Too Much For Fainting Goat

Rick the goat, pictured, falls from a porch swing after fainting from fright.

A porch swing proved to be too much for Ricky the goat, who comically collapsed in fright at his Ohio home after experiencing the sudden motion.

The video was shot by the goat's owner, David Taneyhill, and shows Ricky and his sister Lucy playing in a yard. When Lucy jumps onto the swing, causing it to rock towards Ricky, the latter stiffens and keels over in fright. His temporary paralysis lasts only a few moments before he jumps back up, unfazed.

"Our tan goat Lucy has only fainted two or three times since we got her but Ricky faints a couple times a week," Taneyhill told Caters News. "They just get up and shake it off."

Fainting goats have become popular subjects for viral Internet videos shared on YouTube and the now defunct Vine. One viral news clip has seen over 25 million views on YouTube, and the popular show Mythbusters devoted an episode to fainting goats. Their bizarre display of fear in large groups appears humorous and only causes harm to the goats if they faint from a tall surface. However, the goats are still susceptible to stress if purposefully frightened.

This strain of livestock are properly called Myotonic goats but they go by a number of common names, including: wooden leg goats, Tennessee fainting goats, stiff leg goats, and nervous goats.

They get their name from a genetic condition called myotonia congenita, which causes their muscles to briefly stiffen after they are startled. Myotonia congenita is not unique to goats or livestock and can also affect human beings, though not as a response to fear. To say that the goats are fainting is a misnomer—the animals never actually lose consciousness.

Most animals that experience fear receive a chemical rush that triggers a "fight or flight" response. One hypothesis for why fainting goats "lock-up" when frightened is a cell mutation that inhibits them from receiving this muscle-moving chemical. In other words, instead of responding normally, their muscles seize up.

Because myotonia congenita is a recessive gene, goats that are crossbred with other breeds typically do not display fainting behaviors.

The breed is one of only a few types of goats native to North America and, as their name might indicate, they are commonly found in Tennessee and neighboring states in the South.

While many are kept for their meat, some, such as Ricky and Lucy, have escaped the chopping block by finding an appeal as pets.

"It is still scary when they faint off something they jumped on," said Taneyhill. "But then again, Ricky hasn't learned his lesson about jumping on the swing, so it can't hurt that badly."