You may feel that you know all you need to know about hairballs, but the National Museum of Health and Medicine, in Washington, DC, unpacked what curators described as the "myths and realities" of the objects in a temporary exhibit this week, created in honor of National Hairball Awareness Day. (The holiday fell on Monday, but I've been slow to assimilate it into my calendar.)
Did you know, for example, that not only cats but also humans, chickens and, in particular, cud-chewing animals are susceptible to hairballs, also known as trichobezoars? A bezoar, pronounced "BEE-zor," is a more general term for an undigestible mass.
"'Bezoar' is a Persian word that means 'protection from poison,'" explains the online version of the museum exhibit,
because bezoars were believed to be a universal antidote against poisoning. Bezoars from wild goats, antelopes, and other cud-chewing animals of Persia were introduced to Europe in the 11th century where they were popular in medicinal remedies until the 18 century. In China, ground-up cow bezoars have been used as medicine for more than 2,000 years, particularly to treat diseases of the mouth.
The museum has 27 veterinary and 3 human hairballs, according to its sprightly unofficial blog A Repository for Bottled Monsters, and several will be on display through Sunday. ("And, we'll even let you hold one!") If you choose to take the virtual tour, be forewarned that the further down you scroll, the stronger the stomach you'll need (as it were).
(Photo: National Museum of Health and Medicine)
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