23 widespread myths about animals

A number of animals are misunderstood, stricken by fallacies about their traits and behaviors. Some falsehoods are primarily based on previous legends. Others outcome from exaggerations, distortions, misunderstandings and even deliberate fabrications concocted by self-serving people.

But even when scientific scrutiny reveals these misguided notions for what they’re, many stay surprisingly onerous to dispel. Likelihood is you are clinging to some your self.

The next are enduring tall tales about animals and the myth-busting reality behind them. It is time to put these myths to relaxation.


bears don't hibernate Bears do not really hibernate, however enter a much less intense sleep state referred to as torpor. (Photograph: Joe Giordano/Flickr)

Fantasy: There’s an ‘alpha’ wolf in each wolf pack.

Actuality: Whereas seemingly true for captive wolves, wild wolf packs comply with no such social order. The concept was first posited by Rudolph Schenkel, an animal behaviorist who noticed a hierarchical pack system amongst wolves in Switzerland’s Zoo Basel within the 1930s and 1940s. However the principle would not maintain up on the subject of wild wolves. In nature, wolves reside in household teams with dad and mom as pure “alphas” and their offspring as “subordinates” (just like the way it works for people and most different animal species). In different phrases there is a familial hierarchy that every one pack members honor. What Schenkel noticed have been unrelated wolves residing in unnatural packs, which can have spurred some jockeying for social dominance.

Fantasy: Bulls cost once they see the colour crimson.

Actuality: Bulls do cost at crimson, however additionally they cost at every other color, too. The truth is, bulls (like all cattle) are colorblind to crimson and inexperienced. So it is not colour that enrages them (regardless of the normal use of crimson capes in bullfighting); somewhat it is the cape’s motion — or any motion for that matter — that will get them fired up.

Fantasy: Bears hibernate in winter.

Actuality: It could appear to be they’re out chilly till spring, however bears really enter a less extreme version of hibernation called torpor through which their coronary heart price and respiratory slows, their physique temperature drops barely and so they do not eat or launch bodily waste. Throughout this time, bears can really get up if threatened, and females have even been recognized to provide beginning after which fall again into torpor once more. True hibernators (like woodchucks and bats), alternatively, enter a deep, virtually lifeless, sleep state all through the winter with a drastic drop of their physique temperature.

Fantasy: Bats love human hair.

Actuality: The concept flying bats goal to your hair permeates folklore throughout the world. Sure, bats do typically swoop down at midnight at death-defying speeds, seemingly on a beeline to your hair. However scientific proof reveals these outstanding winged mammals, geared up with particular sonar for night-time navigation, are most likely nosediving for close by mosquitos and never your tresses.

Fantasy: Canine and cats are colorblind.

Actuality: That is really partly true. Canine and cats do not view the world solely in drab shades of black, white and grey as many people grew up believing. They see colours, just not all the colors humans see. That is as a result of cats and canine are like colorblind people with solely two kinds of photoreceptor cells referred to as cones of their retinas which are aware of blue and inexperienced. Individuals who aren’t colorblind have a 3rd cone permitting them to additionally see crimson. Backside line: Cats and canine aren’t as delicate to crimson mild, making it onerous for them to differentiate sure colours, like crimson from inexperienced.

Fantasy: Lemmings commit mass suicide.

Actuality: No, they do not. Not ever. The misguided notion that lemmings catapult themselves off cliffs en masse apparently obtained main traction from a 1958 Academy Award-winning Disney nature documentary referred to as “White Wilderness.” Seems the horrific photographs of lemmings hurling themselves into the ocean to drown were staged by the filmmakers to imitate “real-life” conduct they could not appear to seize on digital camera. In different phrases, they threw the lemmings off the cliff themselves. The fallacy that lemmings are suicidal could also be associated to the truth that lemming populations are inclined to explode cyclically, pushing some emigrate to much less densely populated areas. Often, a few of these lemmings fall off rocks and drown in rivers or lakes on account of being on unfamiliar terrain, however not as a result of they’re dominated by some instinctual loss of life want.

Fantasy: Cats solely purr once they’re happy.

Actuality: Pet a cat and he is more likely to purr. Or take heed to a mama cat contentedly purring to her kittens. It positive appears like a vocalization of happiness. However cats additionally purr when their hungry, distressed (like once they go to the vet), and even once they’re mending from an harm. Which has prompted researchers to take a deeper have a look at this multi-faceted mode of feline communication. Seems cats purr (inflicting physique vibrations) at a low sound frequency between 25 and 150 Hertz, a variety recognized to enhance bone density and promote musculoskeletal well being. It could be that purring additionally serves as a self-healing mechanism to maintain muscular tissues and bones from atrophying through the many hours cats spend slumbering.

Fantasy: Elephant trunks are like straws.

Actuality: An elephant’s trunk is without doubt one of the most versatile appendages ever devised by Mom Nature, used to breathe, odor, collect meals and caress family members. The one factor it is not, although, is a straw. True, elephants do use their trunks to drink, however they obtain this by sucking water partway up after which releasing it into their mouths (or over their our bodies for a bathe).

Fantasy: Run right into a skunk and you are going to find yourself smelly.

Actuality: Not essentially. Skunks aren’t vicious beasts intent on aiming their malodorous bombs at each unsuspecting passerby. The truth is, most are solitary creatures that may somewhat flee than battle. As an alternative, they depend on plenty of “warning” ways earlier than lastly resorting to their smelly spray defense. These embrace their stripes (designed to level out the smelly sprayer in again), in addition to some foot stomping and tail slapping. Why go to all this bother when one squirt of sulfurous scent from their particular anal glands is sufficient to ship most residing issues scrambling for canopy? As a result of as soon as launched it will probably take days to “recharge” their smelly provide, leaving them susceptible to predators.


baby bird Dealing with a child chicken will not drive its mom away for good, however it’s nonetheless not a good suggestion. (Photograph: Audrey from Central Pennsylvania, USA/Wikimedia Commons)

Fantasy: Touching a child chicken makes it unlovable to its mother.

Actuality: This persistent city legend is not all unhealthy. It really serves a very good objective by protecting curious children (and grownups) away from wild creatures that ought to be left alone. The fundamental thought is that after human fingers have touched a hatchling, the scent will flip off the mom chicken for good. The issue is, birds don’t actually have a keen sense of smell. Plus, they’ve what all dad and mom have – an abiding affection for his or her younger. That means they do not normally abandon their infants irrespective of how unhealthy they odor. What does drive them off, although, is somebody disturbing their nest, so again off quietly in case you occur upon one. And in case you do discover an toddler chicken on the bottom, the identical no-touch rule nonetheless applies. Likelihood is its dad and mom are close by, merely ready so that you can be in your means.

Fantasy: Ostriches bury their heads within the sand.

Actuality: It is a in style fantasy, however unfaithful. These large birds are a lot quick and might convey down even the fiercest lion with one well-aimed kick. In different phrases, ostriches needn’t cover their heads in worry. This hogwash about head-burying could have originated from their behavior of laying eggs in a giant gap within the floor. A number of occasions a day, ostrich mothers and dads dip their heads within the gap to examine on issues, usually giving the phantasm of being buried.

Fantasy: Owls can do a 360-degree head spin.

Actuality: No, however they’ll swivel their heads up to 270 degrees — all with out damaging blood vessels of their necks or blocking the blood provide to their brains (which might happen if people tried it). The truth is, owls have uniquely designed bone constructions and blood vessel methods that enable for these Exorcist-style rotations. Why do they should gyrate like that? Owls have tubular eyes that supply superior telescopic imaginative and prescient however stay fastened. That’s, they’ve to show their heads as a result of their eyeballs cannot rotate like ours do to see what is going on on round them.


butterfly on finger A butterfly is not more likely to die in case you frivolously contact its wings, however tough dealing with might be lethal. (Photograph: Tambako The Jaguar/Flickr)

Fantasy: Reduce an earthworm in half and it grows into two worms.

Actuality: Technically, this can be a partial fantasy. Earthworms have a definite head and tail, and the tail finish cannot develop a brand new head or different organs. Nevertheless, in some circumstances the top finish is able to grow a new tail if it is lower behind the clitellum, a swollen band across the 14th, 15th and 16th segments the place eggs are deposited. That is to not say there aren’t worms that may carry out outstanding feats of regeneration. Planarian flatworms, as an illustration, can reconstitute themselves fully from the tiniest physique items.

Fantasy: Daddy longlegs are venomous spiders.

Actuality: No on each accounts. They don’t seem to be venomous and so they’re not spiders. What most of us name daddy longlegs with their pill-shaped our bodies and eight spindly legs are literally a separate order of arachnids referred to as opilionids. These innocent creatures don’t have fangs or venom and feed totally on decomposing vegetable and animal matter. Nevertheless, there’s a similar-looking arachnid referred to as a pholcid that basically is a spider and venomous besides. To not fear, although. They not often chunk people.

Fantasy: Butterflies die in case you contact their wings.

Actuality: Not essentially. In fact, loads is dependent upon how roughly they’re dealt with. Butterflies have delicate wings containing a system of veins. If the veins of their forewings get damaged, they usually die. Nevertheless, in case you merely scrape off a couple of tiny scales (you will see a dusting of colour in your fingers) most butterflies will survive simply nice. These scales give their wings colour, assist with air circulation for flight and permit them to absorb warmth to allow them to regulate their physique temperature. It is best to keep up a hands-off coverage on the subject of butterflies, however you’d need to scrape off plenty of scales to do lasting injury.

Fantasy: All bees solely sting as soon as after which they die.

Actuality: That is true for honeybees, however not for different varieties. That is as a result of honeybees have giant stingers with backward dealing with barbs that get lodged in pores and skin and cannot be pulled out. When a honeybee tries to fly off after entering into for a sting, its complete equipment stays behind, leaving it mortally wounded with a ruptured abdomen. Different bees, and wasps, have smoother stingers that pull out intact — that means they reside to sting one other day.

Reptiles and amphibians

chameleon A chameleon’s colour is not camouflage, however a method to let the world know the way it feels. (Photograph: William Warby/Flickr)

Fantasy: You get warts from touching toads and frogs.

Actuality: By no means. Warts are brought on by a kind of human papillomavirus, not amphibians. The notion could come from the truth that some toads and frogs have wart-like bumps on their pores and skin. However simply since you will not sprout warts doesn’t suggest there aren’t potential hazards. A number of toad and frog species secrete pores and skin toxins that may trigger intense ache if touched. And positively do not take into consideration kissing one. Not solely will not you conjure up a good-looking prince, however some species carry neurotoxins that may be lethal.

Fantasy: Rattlesnakes at all times rattle earlier than placing.

Actuality: Rattlesnakes are pretty shy and innocent when left undisturbed. They rattle their tales as a warning that they are close by. It means, “Do not step on me,” or “Again off.” However rattlesnakes don’t always use this audible deterrent before striking. For those who’re out in areas the place rattlesnakes reside, be conscious and watchful. The nice news is that the majority bites solely occur when a rattlesnake is startled, harassed or picked up.

Fantasy: Chameleons change colour to mix into their environment.

Actuality: It sounds believable, however these multi-hued, quick-change artists swap colours to communicate their moods by way of specialised cells of their pores and skin referred to as chromatophores. Removed from providing camouflage, shade shifts mirror how combative, amorous or frightened a chameleon feels, and may also be linked to temperature and lightweight.

Fantasy: Turtles do not feel ache by means of their shells.

Actuality: A turtle’s shell is constructed from dozens of bones, together with its spine, breastbone and ribs, which are lined with onerous scutes fabricated from keratin (the identical stuff that types fingernails, hair and hooves). In different phrases, the shell is a residing — and feeling — a part of a turtle’s physique, complete with a blood and nerve supply. Turtles really feel what is available in contact with their shells, sort of such as you really feel one thing contact your fingernail. Additionally they expertise ache and might even die from an infection if their shells are broken.


piranha Piranhas could have razor-like enamel, however these formidable-looking fish aren’t more likely to eat you alive – and even get near you. (Photograph: Davesh Jagatram/Flickr)

Fantasy: Sharks can detect a single drop of blood within the water.

Actuality: Granted, sharks have a highly developed sense of smell, however it’s not fairly that discerning. Relying on the species, some sharks can detect blood at one half per million. That is equal to at least one drop of blood in about 13.2 gallons of water. Spectacular. However not as spectacular as their olfactory capabilities on the subject of different chemical scents. The lemon shark, for instance, can acknowledge tuna oil at one half per 25 million – equal to 10 drops in a house swimming pool. Different shark species can establish prey at one half per 10 billion – comparable to at least one drop in an Olympic-sized swimming pool.

Fantasy: Goldfish cannot bear in mind what they did three seconds in the past.

Actuality: Analysis merely would not bear out this notion that goldfish are forgetful. A number of research present that removed from being memory-challenged, goldfish (and different fish, too) are usually not solely capable of learning, however additionally they retain what they be taught for lengthy durations of time.

Fantasy: Piranhas can devour a human being in seconds.

Actuality: It is a terrifying picture that is onerous to overlook as soon as imagined — gangs of predatory piranhas stripping somebody to the bone within the blink of an eye fixed. Sure, piranhas are fearsome-looking creatures with knife-sharp enamel, however by all accounts they’re shy and non-aggressive. The truth is, piranhas largely scavenge for fish, crops and bugs in South American rivers and lakes the place they reside. The tales of flesh-gobbling most likely got here from Theodore Roosevelt after his 1914 journey to Brazil the place he witnessed ravenous piranhas gnaw the meat off a useless cow very quickly. Seems the feeding frenzy was staged for vacationers, utilizing captive fish that have been purposely left unfed for days.

Cannot get sufficient animal myths? Take a look at this video exploring six extra critter “info” that merely aren’t true.

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