10 Brutal But Hilarious Old Disses of Adorable Animals 

iStock/WMarissen
iStock/WMarissen

Today, we tend to speak about the animal kingdom with a certain reverence. How times have changed! A century ago, some people didn’t think twice about taking cheap shots at our fellow creatures. Neither did their forebears 100 years before that. Even Charles Darwin relished in demeaning the marine iguana, which he said were “most disgusting, clumsy Lizards.” If that burn makes you feel bad for the iguanas, just wait until you read Ernest Hemingway’s anti-hyena rant. 

1. “I HAVE NEVER SEEN SUCH AN UGLY ANIMAL OR ONE THAT IS MORE USELESS.”

Young sloth hanging upside down in a tree
iStock/tomalu

Who Said It: Gonzalo Fernandez de Oviedo y Valdes (1478-1557)
The Target: Sloths
A Spanish historian and adventurer, Oviedo was among the first Europeans to ever encounter these sluggish mammals. Apparently, they didn’t leave a good impression on him. In his 1526 book, The Natural History of the West Indies, Oviedo called sloths “the stupidest animal that can be found in the world."

Ironically, Oviedo kept a pet sloth during his travels in South America. Feeding it wasn’t easy. “No one can find out what this animal eats,” he complained. “I had one in my home, and from my observations I have come to believe that this animal lives on air.” Of course, we now know that sloths mainly subsist on plant buds, shoots, and leaves—along with the occasional insect or small vertebrate. 

Oviedo wasn’t the last one to throw shade on sloths. Georges Cuvier (1769-1832), one of the greatest zoologists in history, wrote that in sloths, “nature seems to have amused herself by producing something imperfect and grotesque.”

2. “RHINOCEROS ARE TRUCULENT, BLUSTERING BEASTS, MUCH THE MOST STUPID OF ALL THE DANGEROUS GAME I KNOW.”

White rhinoceros
iStock/EcoPic

Who Said It: Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919)
The Target: Rhinos
Roosevelt was one of those animal lovers who also liked shooting them. In his autobiography, he offers plenty of advice for bringing down everything from grizzlies to elephants. 

While Roosevelt “personally had no difficulties with lions,” he recounted several close calls with angry rhinos. “Generally, their attitude is one of mere stupidity and bluff,” he wrote. “But on occasions, they do charge wickedly, both when wounded and when entirely unprovoked.” He would know. After leaving the White House in 1909, Roosevelt and his son Kermit went on an African hunting expedition on which they killed a whopping 512 animals—including 11 black rhinos and nine white ones. 

Roosevelt's safari was sponsored by the Smithsonian—which he rewarded with more 23,000 valuable specimens, 11,000 of which were animals.

3. “THAT STRANGE LITTLE ANIMAL OF ZOOLOGICAL PERVERSITIES.”

Platypus swimming in greenish water
iStock/IainStych

Who Said It: Ernest Scott (1867-1939)
The Target: Platypuses
You don't need to be a biologist to appreciate how the platypus's discovery confounded animal experts. In January 1939, Ernest Scott, head the Australian and New Zealand Society for the Advancement of Science, gave a lecture on the platypus, “that strange little animal of zoological perversities.” In his words, “the platypus is an historical character. It set the anatomists all agog when specimens were first examined in Europe.” 

Scott wasn’t exaggerating. In 1793, South Wales governor John Hunter had written a paper on the strange beast. Among other things, he theorized that the platypus must have been created by “a promiscuous intercourse” between several different animals. 

4. “HE IS A BIRD OF BAD MORAL CHARACTER. HE DOES NOT GET HIS LIVING HONESTLY.”

Head of a bald eagle
iStock/tvirbickis

Who Said It: Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790)
The Target: Bald Eagles
Did Franklin really want the turkey to be America’s national emblem? No. (In fact, the symbol he proposed was of Moses at the Red Sea.) Franklin didn’t think much of bald eagles, either.  

Congress adopted the Great Seal of the United States in 1782. At its center is a bald eagle soaring with patriotic pride. Two years later, Franklin wrote a letter to his daughter, Sarah Bache, with a scathing critique of the raptor’s personality.

“For my own part I wish the Bald Eagle had not been chosen,” he wrote. “He is a bird of bad moral character. He does not get his living honestly.” He accused bald eagles of stealing prey from ospreys (which is true) and being easily scared off by smaller birds (also true—crows sometimes gang up on the eagles to chase them away).  

5. “IF ANYONE DESIRES TO SEE A BLACKER, UGLIER, MORE SAVAGE, AND MORE UNTAMEABLE BEAST THAN OUR ‘DEVIL,’ HE MUST BE DIFFICULT TO PLEASE.”

Juvenile Tasmanian devil
iStock/Redzaal

Who Said It: Louisa Anne Meredith (1812-1895)
The Target: Tasmanian Devils
This marsupial has been vilified for ages. During the 19th century, rumor had it that the creatures could even skeletonize unwary travelers. Soon, popular Aussie writers bought into the hype—including Meredith. In 1880, she penned the above sentence to defend the killing of 150 devils by a local shepherd. “We don’t show the brutes any mercy; they do too much mischief,” Meredith wrote.

In reality, Tasmanian devils don’t prey on humans and usually won’t attack unless threatened. Furthermore, despite Meredith’s concerns about their taste for full-grown sheep, the devils mainly kill sick or young ones.   

6. “IT IS AN ANIMAL NO LESS MISCHIEVOUS THAN IT IS DEFORMED.”

Vampire bat
iStock/Dervical

Who Said It: Georges-Louis Leclerc, comte de Buffon (1707-1788)
The Target: Vampire Bats
Other mammals with terrible reputations include the three known vampire bat species. Natives of Central and South America, these blood-sippers predominantly feed on cows, chickens, and other livestock. And, yes, one of these bats—the common vampire bat (Desmodus rotundus)—does occasionally bite humans. For that to happen, the victim is usually asleep and the bite tends to occur on the big toe.

Buffon described the bat in volume seven of his encyclopedic Natural History series. The animal’s nose “is deformed, its nostrils resembling a funnel, with a membrane at the top which … greatly heightens the deformity of its face,” he wrote. 

7. “[THEY HAVE] A SINGULARLY STUPID AIR, NOT AT ALL BELIED BY THEIR MANNERS.”

Common snipe standing in a marsh
iStock/Andrew_Howe

Who Said It: Georges-Louis Leclerc, comte de Buffon (1707-1788)
The Target: Snipes
Yes, snipes are real. The long-beaked wading birds poke around for worms and other invertebrates on warm or temperate beaches all over Eurasia, Africa, Australia, and the Americas. Ornithologists currently recognize around 20 species—the largest of which can be 19 inches long from beak tip to tail tip. 

Buffon mocked their appearance in another installment in his multi-volume Natural History. “A character peculiar to these birds,” he wrote, “is a compressed head and large eyes placed considerably behind, which give them a singularly stupid air not at all belied by their manners.” 

8. “THERE IS NO DEPTH OF MEANNESS, TREACHERY, OR CRUELTY TO WHICH THEY DO NOT CHEERFULLY DESCEND.”

Two gray wolves running through a snowy landscape
iStock/KenCanning

Who Said It: William Temple Hornaday (1854-1937)
The Target: Gray Wolves
The American bison had a powerful friend in Hornaday, a hunter-turned-naturalist who set up a captive bison breeding program, founded the National Bison Society, and helped establish protected ranges for them in Kansas and Montana.

Yet his attitude towards wolves was far less accommodating. In 1904, Hornaday opined that every single one was not only “deadly dangerous to man,” but “a black-hearted murderer and criminal.” Moreover, there was supposedly “no depth of meanness, treachery, or cruelty to which they do not cheerfully descend.” 

Since colonial times, American farmers had been at odds with wolves, which frequently killed livestock. In the late 19th century, the government established bounty programs—some of which lasted until 1965—that would pay private hunters anywhere from $20 to $50 per dead wolf.

By 1960, only about 300 wolves remained in the lower 48 states. Then, in 1973, Congress granted them formal protection under the Endangered Species Act. Since then, gray wolves have been steadily recovering—with roughly 5500 now roaming the contiguous United States.

9. “TORPID, SENSELESS CREATURES.”

Mother koala and baby koala snuggling
iStock/Windzepher

Who Said It: George Perry (1771-?)
The Target: Koalas
A stonemason by trade, Perry’s real passion was natural history. From 1810 to 1811, he published The Arcana, a monthly illustrated magazine dedicated to the study of life. 

In one 1811 issue, his readers were greeted with the first painting of a koala in a European publication. Perry’s caption called it “the Koalo, or New Holland Sloth.” And, just as Oviedo didn’t know what to make of real sloths, Perry was befuddled by this arboreal weirdo. Arcana subscribers were told that the “torpid, senseless creatures” were “supposed to live chiefly on berries and fruits.”

Perry added, “Whether we consider the uncouth and remarkable form of its body, which is particularly awkward and unwieldy, or its strange … manner of living, we are at a loss to imagine for what particular scale of usefulness or happiness such an animal could by the great Author of Nature possibly be destined.”

10. “A HERMAPHRODITIC SELF-EATING DEVOURER OF THE DEAD.”

Spotted hyena in a clearing
iStock/PickledImages

Who Said It: Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961)
The Target: Hyenas
These mammals were getting bad press long before The Lion King opened. Teddy Roosevelt said they were “too cowardly ever to be a source of danger to the hunter.” He did give them some credit: “The hyena is a beast of unusual strength, and of enormous power in his jaws and teeth ... the creature is fraught with a terror all its own.” 

Ernest Hemingway had an even less flattering outlook. In The Green Hills of Africa (1935), which chronicles a safari he took two years earlier, Hemingway called the hyena a “hermaphroditic, self-eating devourer of the dead, trailer of calving cows, ham-stringer, potential biter-off of your face at night while you slept, sad yowler, camp-follower, stinking, foul, with jaws that crack the bones the lion leaves, belly dragging, loping away on the brown plain.” (Incidentally, it was Roosevelt’s 1909 expedition that inspired Hemingway to take this trip.)

Hemingway was semi-correct: Female hyenas do have pseudo-penises (more or less a weirdly-shaped clitoris), but they're not hermaphrodites. And while they’re not above scavenging, hyenas actively kill 95 percent of their meals. Lions are far more likely to munch on a hyena’s leftovers than vice versa. Sorry, Hemingway.

A Newly Discovered Species of Prehistoric Shark Was Named After the Video Game Galaga

Velizar Simeonovski, Field Museum
Velizar Simeonovski, Field Museum

Dinosaurs weren’t the only fearsome creatures who called North America their home millions of years ago. The recent discovery of pointy, fossilized teeth in rock that had been left over from an excavation in the ‘90s has led scientists to declare a new—yet long-extinct—shark species, Smithsonian reports.

North Carolina State University professor Terry Gates, who led the study published in the Journal of Paleontology, named the shark species Galagadon nordquistae after its triangular teeth, which he thought resembled the shape of the battleships in the video game Galaga. The second part of the name pays homage to Karen Nordquist, the retired chemist and volunteer at Chicago’s Field Museum who found the fossils in the first place.

Galagadon lived in what we now know as South Dakota’s Hell Creek Formation, an area known for having rocks and fossils that date back at least 65 million years to the Cretaceous Period. It’s the same place where scientists unearthed Sue the T.rex—the most complete skeleton of its species ever discovered. Not only did the shark live at the same time as Sue, but it also “lived in a river Sue probably drank from,” the Field Museum, where Sue can be seen on display, said in a press release.

In fact, the excavation that led to Sue’s discovery in 1990 is what enabled this latest find. The sediment that encased Sue’s bones, known as matrix, was removed and stored in an underground unit at the Field Museum. Scientists and museum volunteers have only recently begun to sift through it in search of smaller fossils.

Shark tooth fossils
Terry Gates, Journal of Paleontology

Sharks’ skeletons are primarily made of cartilage, which deteriorates over time. But the tiny teeth, measuring just a millimeter wide, helped scientists figure out what the shark looked like. "Galagadon was less than 2 feet long—it's not exactly Jaws," Pete Makovicky, one of the study’s authors, said in a statement.

The species is believed to be similar to bamboo sharks, which can be found today in southeast Asia and Australia. This connection surprised researchers, who are now questioning their understanding of the area where Sue was found, which was thought to be a lake formed from a partially dried-up river. This latest discovery, however, indicates that there “must have been at least some connection to marine environments," Makovicky says.

[h/t Smithsonian]

12 Animals Named After the Noises They Make

A bobolink, said to have been named for the call it makes
A bobolink, said to have been named for the call it makes
iStock.com/PaulReevesPhotography

If you were asked to name an onomatopoeic word, then you’d probably come up with something like boom, boing, whizz, smash, or tick-tock. They’re all perfectly good examples, of course, but onomatopoeia is actually responsible for a lot more words than you might think. For instance, etymologists believe that pebble might have been coined to imitate the sound of flowing water. Laugh might have been invented to sound like, well, a laugh. Owl, crow, and raven are all descended from Old English words (ule, crawe, hræfn) that were meant to imitate the owl’s hoot and the crow’s and raven’s squawks. And the 12 names listed here are all meant to represent the bizarre whoops, chips, peeps and wows made by the animals they describe.

1. AI

An ai in Venezuela
Fernando Flores, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 2.0

As well as being a contender for the world’s shortest animal name, ai (which should be pronounced “ah-ee") is another name for a three-toed sloth, especially the pale-throated sloth, found in the far northeast corner of South America. Although sloths are generally fairly docile, the name ai is apparently meant to resemble the high-pitched cry they can make when they’re agitated or alarmed.

2. BOBOLINK

Bobolinks can produce very long and surprisingly complex songs, but their usual go-to noise is a brief four-note call that’s commonly said to sound like someone saying “Bob-o-Lincoln.” The name Bob-o-Lincoln eventually was shortened to bobolink in the 1800s.

3. CHIPMUNK

One theory claims that the name chipmunk is an English interpretation of a native Ojibwe word, ajidamoo, meaning something like “red squirrel.” But because chipmunks were originally known as “chipping squirrels” in English, it seems more likely that the name is actually an English invention, in which case it’s probably meant to describe their short “chipping” call.

4. CHOWCHILLA

A chowchilla
Seabamirum, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

The chowchilla is type of logrunner, a small thrush-like bird, that’s native to Queensland, Australia. For a bird not much larger than a robin, the chowchilla has a particularly noisy call that to early European colonists and explorers apparently sounded like “chow-chilla-chow-chow.” The chowchilla was also once known as the “auctioneer bird,” apparently because (with a bit of imagination) its song sounds like an auctioneer's incessant chattering.

5. CHUCK-WILL’S-WIDOW

A cousin of the better-known whippoorwill, the chuck-will’s-widow is another species of nightjar (a family of nocturnal birds related to swifts and martins) native to the southern United States and much of Central America. Dozens of different species of nightjar are found all over the world, and they all share incredible camouflaged plumage and strange whooping calls—so if the “whippoorwill” makes a noise that sounds like poor Will is about to be whipped, then the “chuck-will’s-widow” makes a sound like poor Will’s widow is about to be chucked.

6. GANG-GANG

A gang-gang cockatoo
iStock.com/JohnCarnemolla

The peculiar croaking noise made by the gang-gang cockatoo of southeast Australia has been likened to everything from a creaking wooden door to a cork being pulled from a wine bottle. However you might want to describe it, the onomatopoeic name gang-gang was adopted into English from a Wiradhuri name that was supposed to imitate it.

7. HOOPOE

Hoopoe bird on a branch
iStock.com/shurub

The hoopoe is a striking-looking songbird whose name is meant to imitate its strange whooping call. Their bizarre appearance has also helped make them the frequent subject of myths and folktales over time: the Ancient Egyptians worshipped them and drew pictures of them inside the pyramids; the Romans believed that they were filthy creatures because they fed on dung and frequently nested in graveyards; and at least one old European legend claims that the younger birds look after the older ones in their old age, restoring their youth by plucking out dying feathers and licking blindness from their eyes.

8. KATYDID

A katydid on a purple flower
iStock.com/blindsquirrelphoto

Katydids make their loud and often three-syllable “ka-ty-did” call by rubbing their forewings together. They hear each other, incidentally, with ears located on their front legs. There are more than 6000 species in the katydid family, found on every continent except Antarctica.

9. MACAQUE

The name macaque was borrowed into English via French in the late 17th century, but it’s thought to originally derive from an old Bantu name, kaku, for any of the numerous monkey species found in West Africa. The name kaku is in turn supposed to be imitative of a monkey call, and it’s from the plural form of kaku—namely makaku in Bantu—that the word macaque eventually evolved.

10. PEEWIT

A type of plover with characteristic green plumage and a long curled crest, the northern lapwing has a number of nicknames in English—including the peewit, the swipe, the peepsweep, the teewhit, and the teeack—every one of which is supposed to emulate its noisy alarm call. The common name lapwing, incidentally, refers to the bird’s tactic of feigning a broken wing in order to distract predators from their nest when they feel threatened.

11. PIET-MY-VROU

Piet-my-vrou is another name for the red-chested cuckoo, a species of cuckoo found across much of sub-Saharan Africa. Cuckoos are well known for their instantly recognizable call, and it’s the loud three-note descending call of the piet-my-vrou (which literally means “Pete my wife” in Afrikaans) that gives it its name.

12. WOW-WOW

A wow-wow, or agile gibbon

Gibbons are famous for their lengthy and surprisingly complex songs, and the whooping or “wowing” call of the wow-wow or wawa—a local Indonesian name for either the agile gibbon or the silvery gibbon—is no exception. Sadly both species are now listed as endangered, due to their localized distribution and on-going habitat destruction.

This story first ran in 2014.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER