Q: How much space does a fart take in your body? — Inbal R., age 5
Placed under the microscope, even the dullest grain of sand develops a personality. So it goes with farts. (Or “flatulence,” as they say in the scientific literature.) Farts may seem largely interchangeable, but each one is special. Even just your own farts are a circus sideshow of intestinal gas: big ones, little ones, stinky ones, oddly fresh ones. There is not enough scientific evidence to say that no two farts are alike — but you can rest assured that they are a riot of diversity.
As a result, it’s impossible to say exactly how much space a generic fart takes up in the body. I can, however, tell you about the range of specific farts, as captured in scientific experiments. For instance, a 1997 study of 16 Americans found a volume-per-fart range of 17 milliliters to 375 milliliters. Imagine a bottle of nail polish — that’s a rough analogy for the volume of the daintiest of poots. Now imagine a can of soda. That’s the volume of a really big stinker. Your body is a wonderland.
But there are another couple of questions floating around this data. First, obviously, “How does one collect a fart?” And I’ll get to that in a bit. But second, and perhaps more important, is this: “Why study the gas volume of farts?” That’s a really interesting question if for no other reason than the fact that Dr. Michael Levitt, a researcher at Minneapolis Veterans Affairs and the grande sieur of fart research, doesn’t think there’s much value to the data. “It’s just physiological fact,” he told me. It’s interesting to know the volume of a fart, but it doesn’t have a lot of deeper meaning.