Why Would You Take a Canary Into a Coal Mine?

Quck answer

Taking a canary into a coal mine was a common practice in the past to detect the presence of dangerous gases, particularly carbon monoxide. Canaries are highly sensitive to these gases, and if they became sick or died, it served as an early warning sign for miners to evacuate the mine. This method was used because canaries have a faster metabolism, smaller lung capacity, and breathe more rapidly than humans, making them more susceptible to toxic gases. By monitoring the canary’s behavior, miners could protect themselves from potential harm and prevent accidents in the mine.

Today, we’re going to explore a coal mine, which is one of the deepest and darkest places on Earth. Before we start, let’s gather some supplies. Put on your boots, grab a pair of gloves, and secure your miner’s hat. And don’t forget, we need to find a canary.

Does that sound strange? Bringing a canary into a coal mine? It may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think about entering a mine nowadays. However, there was a time when coal miners wouldn’t enter a coal mine without a canary.

How did canaries help coal miners? They protected them from a dangerous gas called carbon monoxide (CO) that exists in the mines. CO is a toxic gas that has no odor. It can cause dizziness, unconsciousness, and even death in both humans and animals.

Why were canaries particularly suited for protecting miners from carbon monoxide? Canaries breathe faster than most humans, so they take in more air. If there was poisonous gas in the air, canaries would breathe in twice as much of it, making them sick before the miners. If a miner noticed that a canary was acting strangely or passed out, they knew it was time to leave the mine immediately.

The practice of bringing canaries into coal mines began in 1911 and gained popularity quickly. In many cases, miners saw the canaries as both protectors and pets. They even developed devices to revive unconscious canaries affected by poisonous gas, providing them with extra oxygen and often saving their lives.

Canaries weren’t the only animals used to protect miners from poisonous gases. Mice also served this purpose for a while until miners realized that canaries provided an earlier warning. Nowadays, digital CO detectors have replaced animals to warn miners of potential danger.

The use of canaries in coal mines ended in 1986. However, the phrase “canary in a coal mine” is still used today as an idiom to describe something that may indicate trouble or danger ahead.

Can you think of any examples of a “canary in a coal mine”? Take some time today to discuss this saying and its history with a friend or family member.

Try It Out

Find an adult who can assist you in doing one or more of these enjoyable activities to continue learning:

  • Coal miners are not the only ones who need to be concerned about the risks of carbon monoxide. Many household appliances, such as furnaces, fireplaces, and stoves, can also pose a danger of CO poisoning in people’s own homes. You can find information about the dangers of CO poisoning and how to stay safe on the Safe Kids Worldwide website. Afterwards, discuss with a family member about ways to keep each other safe.
  • If you are interested in learning more about canaries, you can read about them on the Kiddle website. After reading, summarize what you learned for a friend or family member and include at least three interesting new facts about canaries.
  • The phrase “canary in a coal mine” is a common idiom. Are there any other sayings that are common in your area? Ask a friend or family member to help you come up with at least five sayings. Write down these sayings and provide explanations for what they mean.

Wonder Sources

  • https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/story-real-canary-coal-mine-180961570/ (accessed 03 Dec. 2020)
  • https://www.forbes.com/sites/kionasmith/2019/12/31/the-canary-in-the-coal-mine-isnt-ancient-history/?sh=603463f94393 (accessed 03 Dec. 2020)
  • https://www.birdnote.org/listen/shows/canary-coal-mine (accessed 03 Dec. 2020)
  • https://www.openculture.com/2018/05/the-device-invented-to-resuscitate-canaries-in-coal-mines-circa-1896.html (accessed 03 Dec. 2020)
  • https://learnersdictionary.com/ (accessed 03 Dec. 2020)

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