January 2013 | Nate Pedersen

How Many Seagulls Does it Take to Lift a Giant Peach?

How many seagulls does it take to lift a giant peach?

No, that isn't the beginning of a bad joke -- it's a valid area of scientific inquiry recently pursued by University of Leicester physics students. The students investigated the claim made by Roald Dahl in his classic children's novel James and the Giant Peach that it took 501 seagulls to lift James and Co's peach into the great blue yonder.

As it turns out Dahl was off in his figure.  Way, way off.

It would take a staggering 2.5 million seagulls to lift a giant peach.

The students began by measuring the theoretical weight of the peach, which Dahl described as being "tall and wide" like a small house. They then multiplied its presumed density by its volume.  They concluded that 4,890,579 newtons of force would be required to carry the peach. Seagulls are able to lift just over two newtons each, so that means approximately 2.5 million of them would be necessary for the job.

There are only 840,000 seagulls in all of Britain.

(First state first editions of the novel with dust jacket, by the way, currently command about $800+ on the open market).