Re: Flaming Gerbils
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From: Peter Langston <psl>
Date: Thu, 21 Nov 96 10:22:48 -0800
Subject: Re: Flaming Gerbils
A number of people wrote to remind me of the urban legend status of the
Flaming Gerbils story and to mention related gerbiliana. Some such is
collected at the Urban Legends web site under
including the following item about the flaming gerbils story.
Gerbilling - The Roll of (Non)Evidence
From: firstname.lastname@example.org (Ian A. York)
Subject: Re: Gerbils and water sports
Date: 28 May 1996 20:46:03 -0400
In article <email@example.com>,
Steven S. Davis wrote:
>I don't recall there ever being any evidence, eyewitness, phyical,
>documentary, or circumstantial, offered in support of that rumor.
As you say, there was no support offered for that. Since this is being
crossposted to several groups (followups are hereby redirected to
alt.folklore.urban), here's a summary of this legend to date.
Cecil Adams, in his Straight Dope column (collected into several books) at
first thought the rumour might be true, but says that all attempts to
track down a real case have been unsuccessful and says that he now is
confident that it's merely a legend.
Jan Harold Brunvand discusses it as an urban legend (and agrees that it's
false) in his book on urban legends, The Mexican Pet.
The guy who writes "News of the Weird" published a list of objects found
up the down staircase which included a rodent. On being asked by Cecil
for a source, he hastily retracted the gerbil (ummm, you know what I
mean); he had mistaken his original query for such a cite as being a cite.
Or something like that; the correspondence is in one of Cecil's books.
There's been nothing relevant published in the medical literature,
according to Medline. A 1993 search is mentioned in the AFU FAQ
(http://www.urbanlegends.com/) and I've repeated it since then with no
Requests on various medical newsgroups have turned up no eyewitness, and
requests for gossip among my doctor buddies have only raised their
eyebrows. Good old anonymous nobody is the first to make the claim.
(Incidentally, in contrast to his suggestion that MDs are bashful about
descriptions and prefer to simply use "rectal foreign object," the
literature is simply crammed full of rectal objects, described in loving
Checking with a MD who claimed to have seen an x-ray revealed that he had
not seen the patient, and had no evidence that the x-ray was not faked.
It was passed to him by an x-ray technician, who had had it passed to him
by another x-ray tech from another hospital, and so forth. Combining two
x-rays (e.g. one shot of a colon, one of a rodent) is quite simple,
according to photographers who discussed this at the time.
An MD claimed to have seen an x-ray of a rectal rodent while a medical
student (the MD, not the rodent). I wrote to the professor he remembered
as showing the x-ray, who replied that he had shown x-rays of a rectal
tumbler and of a snake digesting a rodent, and presumed that the student
had conflated the two in memory.
As Harry says, after a while the lack of positive evidence becomes pretty
strong negative evidence in itself. At this point, it's going to take
more than a forged post from an anonymous poster to change my mind.
Ian "squeak" York
© 1996 Peter Langston