7 Animal Myths You Shouldn’t Believe

iStock/TomekD76
iStock/TomekD76

Chances are, some of the “fun facts” you know about the animal kingdom aren’t actually facts at all. There are plenty of pervasive myths about animals that have little basis in reality, but still get passed off as common knowledge around schoolyards, cocktail parties, and internet lists. We've previously debunked popular myths about animals like pandas, penguins, and vultures. Now, a new book, True or Poo?: The Definitive Field Guide to Filthy Animal Facts and Falsehoods, aims to debunk even more of these misconceptions. From the authors of Does It Fart? the illustrated volume is designed to give you the true scoop on the wonders of the animal world. Here are seven myths you may have heard before that, according to True or Poo? authors Nick Caruso and Dani Rabaiotti, don’t pass the smell test.

1. ANTEATERS VACUUM UP ANTS WITH THEIR NOSES.

An illustration of an anteater sucking ants into its nose
From True or Poo?: The Definitive Field Guide to Filthy Animal Facts and Falsehoods by Nick Caruso and Dani Rabaiotti, published by Hachette. Copyright © 2018 by Nick Caruso and Dani Rabaiotti

None of the four species of anteater go around hoovering up ants through their long snouts, despite what cartoons may have led you to believe. They have incredibly long tongues (the giant anteater’s can measure almost 2 feet) that they use to lap up their prey. They can flick their tongues—which are covered in spiny hooks and sticky saliva to trap ants—up to 160 times a minute, eating up to 20,000 insects a day.

2. CHAMELEONS CHANGE COLOR TO BLEND IN WITH THEIR ENVIRONMENT.

Chameleons are known for blending in with their surroundings, but that’s not actually why they change colors. Instead, their skin changes its pigmentation based on temperature and arousal state. It’s all based on the arrangement of nanocrystal within reflective cells in their outermost layer of skin. When the nanocrystals are farther apart, they reflect longer wavelengths of light, like orange and red, and when they’re closer together, they reflect shorter wavelengths (blue, for example). This can help them communicate with other chameleons—like rival males—or adapt to different temperatures, turning a lighter color stay cool in the sun, for instance.

3. STANDING STILL COULD SAVE YOU FROM A T. REX.

An illustration of a mime standing next to a T. rex
From True or Poo?: The Definitive Field Guide to Filthy Animal Facts and Falsehoods by Nick Caruso and Dani Rabaiotti, published by Hachette. Copyright © 2018 by Nick Caruso and Dani Rabaiotti

Sorry, Jurassic Park lied to you. Staying very, very still would be no defense against a raging Tyrannosaurus rex, should you happen to encounter one. The giant dinosaurs’ vision may have been even better than modern-day raptors, in fact. Even if they weren’t eagle-eyed, though, their excellent sense of smell would easily allow them to locate you no matter how still you were standing.

4. BABY SNAKES ARE EVEN MORE DANGEROUS THAN ADULTS.

People walking around in areas where they have to be mindful of snakes are often warned to be even more wary of young snakes than their adult counterparts, because they haven’t yet learned to control the amount of venom they inject when they strike you. But that’s not true at all. For one thing, scientists aren’t sure if any snake can control its venom output, and for another, in some species, a snake’s venom actually gets more potent as they get older. In general, a bite from a smaller snake will likely contain less venom than one from a larger one, no matter what their age.

5. WE ALL EAT SPIDERS IN OUR SLEEP.

An illustration of a spider crawling into a man's mouth
From True or Poo?: The Definitive Field Guide to Filthy Animal Facts and Falsehoods by Nick Caruso and Dani Rabaiotti, published by Hachette. Copyright © 2018 by Nick Caruso and Dani Rabaiotti

Good news: You probably haven’t chowed down on any spiders during your sleep. While many spiders are nocturnal hunters, the chances that one of them would decide to go on a hunting trip in your mouth is pretty far-fetched. We can’t totally guarantee that you’ve never chowed down on an arachnid during nap time, but climbing up on a snoring, breathing human and diving into their mouth wouldn’t be an appealing activity for most spiders. Hopefully this will help to snooze more soundly tonight.

6. TOADS CAN GIVE YOU WARTS.

Though some of them may be bumpy, toads aren’t covered in warts, and you certainly can’t get warts from touching them. The bumps we see on the skin of some toad species are glands that produce defensive toxins to ward off predators. So, you still shouldn’t touch them—but they won’t infect you with the human papillomavirus (also known as HPV), which is what causes warts on people’s skin.

7. EARWIGS LAY EGGS IN PEOPLE'S EARS.

Despite the name, earwigs have very little interest in your ears. While they have a reputation for burrowing into people’s ear canals to lay their eggs, there’s no evidence that they do so, or that they end up in people’s ears any more than any bug does. Earwigs prefer to hang out in moist, dark places like in soil or under tree bark. The rumor of their love of ear canals can be traced back to the Roman naturalist Pliny the Elder, who also suggested that placing goat dung on an open wound could cure rabies, among other questionable ideas.

The cover of 'True or Poo?'
From True or Poo?: The Definitive Field Guide to Filthy Animal Facts and Falsehoods by Nick Caruso and Dani Rabaiotti, published by Hachette. Copyright © 2018 by Nick Caruso and Dani Rabaiotti

Can’t get enough animal myths? You can get a copy of True or Poo on Amazon for $11.

11 Facts About French Bulldogs

iStock/carolinemaryan
iStock/carolinemaryan

These cute little dogs are enjoying a serious comeback. Here’s the scoop on the fourth most popular dog breed in America. 

1. FRENCH BULLDOGS HAVE ROOTS IN ENGLAND.


iStock/malrok

The French bulldog’s origins are murky, but most sources trace their roots to English bulldogs. Lace makers in England were drawn to the toy version of the dog and would use the smaller pups as lap warmers while they worked. When the lace industry moved to France, they took their dogs with them. There, the English bulldogs probably bred with terriers to create bouledogues français, or French bulldogs. 

2. THEY WERE BRED TO BE GREAT COMPANIONS.

Frenchies are affectionate, friendly dogs that were bred to be companions. Although they’re somewhat slow to be housebroken, they get along well with other dogs and aren’t big barkers. The dogs don’t need much exercise, so they are fine in small areas and enjoy the safety of a crate.

3. THEY CAN'T SWIM.


iStock/ginastancel

As a result of their squat frame and bulbous head, French bulldogs can’t swim, so pool owners should keep a watchful eye on their pups. Keep in mind that if you plan a beach vacation, your furry friend might feel a little left out. 

4. FLYING IS A PROBLEM FOR THEM, TOO.

French Bulldogs are a brachycephalic breed, meaning they have shorter snouts than other dogs. These pushed-in faces can lead to a variety of breathing problems. This facial structure, coupled with high stress and uncomfortably warm temperatures, can lead to fatal situations for dogs with smaller snouts. Many breeds like bulldogs and pugs have perished while flying, so as a result, many airlines have banned them. 

Luckily there are special airlines just for pets, like Pet Jets. These companies will transport dogs with special needs on their own flights separate from their owners. There's a human on board to take care of any pups that get sick or panic. 

5. THEY MAKE GREAT BABYSITTERS.

When a baby orangutan named Malone was abandoned by his mother, the Twycross Zoo in England didn’t know if he would make it. Luckily, a 9-year-old French bulldog named Bugsy stepped in and took care of the little guy. The pair became fast friends and would even fall asleep together. When Malone was big enough, he joined the other orangutans at the zoo. 

6. THEY'RE SENSITIVE TO CRITICISM.

Frenchies are very sensitive, so they do not take criticism lightly. If you scold a French bulldog, it might take it very seriously and mope around the house. French bulldogs respond better to positive reinforcement and encouragement. 

7. THEY'RE A TALKATIVE BREED. 

French bulldogs might not bark much, but they do like to “talk.” Using a complex system of yawns, yips, and gargles, the dogs can convey the illusion of their own language. Sometimes they will even sing along with you in the car. 

8. THEY HAVE TWO STYLES OF EARS. 


iStock/IvonneW

Originally, French bulldogs had rose-shaped ears, similar to their larger relative, the English bulldog. English breeders much preferred the shape, but American breeders liked the unique bat ears. When a rose-eared bulldog was featured at the Westminster Kennel Club in 1897, American dog fanciers were very angry

9. THIS CONTROVERSY LED TO THE FORMATION OF THE FRENCH BULL DOG CLUB OF AMERICA.

The FBDCA was founded in protest of the rose-shaped ears. The organization threw its first specialty show in 1898 at New York City’s famed Waldorf-Astoria. The FBDCA website described the event: “amid palms, potted plants, rich rugs and soft divans. Hundreds of engraved invitations were sent out and the cream of New York society showed up. And, of course, rose-eared dogs were not welcomed.”

The somewhat catty efforts of the club led to the breed moving away from rose-shaped ears entirely. Today, French bulldogs feature the bat-shaped ears American breeders fought to showcase. 

10. MOST FRENCH BULLDOGS ARE BORN THROUGH ARTIFICIAL INSEMINATION. 

Due to their unusual proportions, the dogs have a little trouble copulating. Males have a hard time reaching the females, and they often get overheated and exhausted when trying to get things going. As a result, a large majority of French bulldogs are created through artificial insemination. While this measure makes each litter of pups more expensive, it also allows breeders to check for potential problems during the process. 

French bulldogs often also have problems giving birth, so many must undergo a C-section. The operation ensures the dog will not have to weather too much stress and prevents future health complications.

11. CELEBRITIES LOVE FRENCHIES.

Frenchies make plenty of appearances in the tabloids. Celebrities like Lady Gaga, Hugh Jackman, and The Rock have all been seen frolicking with their French bulldogs. Even Leonardo DiCaprio has one—aptly named Django. Hugh Jackman’s Frenchie is named Dali, after the way the dog’s mouth curls like the famous artist’s mustache. 

This article originally ran in 2015.

What’s That Thing That Hangs Off a Turkey’s Face?

iStock.com/JZHunt
iStock.com/JZHunt

That thing is called a snood. And it's there to let the other turkeys know that its owner is kind of a big deal.

When a male turkey—known as a tom—wants to mate, he faces two hurdles. One is his potential mates, the female turkeys (a.k.a. hens). In the realm of turkey mating, the hens wield the power of choice and the toms have to get their attention and win the opportunity to reproduce. Come mating season, a tom will strut around, gobble, puff out his chest, fan his tail, and drag his wings to attract the hens, who then pick which of the toms they’ll mate with.

The second problem for a tom looking for love is the other toms in the area. They’re all competing for the same limited number of hens. Sometimes a good mating display isn’t enough to win a mate, and toms will attack and fight each other to secure a hen. 

This is where the snood comes in. That goofy-looking piece of dangling flesh helps a tom both with choosy hens and with competition from rival males. Having a long snood almost always means that a hen will want to mate with him and that another tom will back down from a fight.

DUDES AND THEIR SNOODS

When two toms are trying to establish dominance, they’ll size each other up. Then they'll either fight, or one will flee.

In the late 1990s, Richard Buchholz, an animal behaviorist who focuses on turkeys, wanted to figure out which, if any, characteristics of a tom turkey could predict how they fare in dominance fights. That is, did bigger turkeys tend to win more scuffles? Did older ones? He also wanted to see if the turkeys used any of these predictive cues when sizing each other up. He looked at various characteristics of dominant toms that fight and win, and compared them to those of subordinate toms that lose fights or run from them. Of all the characteristics he looked at, only “relaxed snood length” seemed to be a reliable predictor of how a tom would do in bird-vs-bird combat. The dominant males, the ones who won fights and got a choice mate, had longer snoods.

With that in mind, Buchholz looked at how toms reacted to other toms with snoods of varying sizes. The birds tended to avoid confrontation with other males with longer snoods, and wouldn’t even feed near them. A big snood, this suggests, says to the other turkeys that this is a tom you don’t want to tangle with. Buchholz noted that snood length correlates with age, body mass, and testosterone, so, to competitors, the snood could be a good indicator of a tom’s aggressiveness, age/experience, size, and overall condition and fighting ability.

IN THE SNOOD FOR LOVE

Once the males have established who’s going to have a chance to mate, the final choice goes to the hen. While the mating display is the main draw for getting a hen to check him out, a tom’s snood helps him out again here.

Like it did for the other males, a tom’s snood signals a lot of information to a female assessing potential mates—it indicates how old and how big he is, and even says something about his health. In another study, Buchholz found that longer-snooded toms carried fewer parasites. If a hen wanted to choose a mate with good genes that might help her offspring grow large, live long, and avoid parasites, a tom’s snood is a good advertisement for his genes. In that study, hens showed a clear preference for toms with longer snoods. In another experiment years later, Buchholz found that healthy hens again showed a strong preference for long snoods and that hens with their own parasite problems were less picky about snood length and checked out more potential mates—perhaps, Buchholz thinks, because the hens recognized their own susceptibility to infection and were willing to invest more time searching for a tom with genes for parasite resistance that would complement their own—but still showed some preference for longer ones.

While a snood might look goofy to us, for a turkey, it’s integral to the mating game, signaling to other toms that they should get out of his way and letting hens know that he’s got what they’re looking for.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

An earlier version of this article ran in 2013.

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