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.

Could Gigantic Coconut Crabs Have Played a Part in Amelia Earhart’s Mysterious Disappearance? At Least One Scientist Thinks So

Getty Images
Getty Images

Amelia Earhart's disappearance during her attempt to fly around the world has captivated historians and conspiracy theorists for more than 80 years. One organization is now suggesting that her fate may have been sealed by giant crabs.

The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR) believes that Amelia Earhart and navigator Fred Noonan may have landed their plane on Nikumaroro Island when they couldn't find their target, Howland Island, and that Nikumaroro's endemic crustaceans may have played a part in the ensuing mystery.

According to National Geographic, there are several clues supporting TIGHAR's theory. The large reef that hugs Nikumaroro’s coast makes it conducive to emergency aircraft landings. In 1940—just three years after Earhart’s disappearance—British colonists found 13 human bones beneath a ren tree on the island and shipped them to Fiji, where they were lost. The colony's administrator, Gerald Gallagher, sent a telegram back to England positing that it was Earhart’s skeleton. Then, in 2001, researchers uncovered U.S.-made artifacts around the ren tree including a jackknife, a woman’s compact, a zipper, and glass jars. The plot thickened even further in 2017, when four forensic bone-sniffing dogs all indicated that a human had indeed died at the site, though excavators failed to dig up any more evidence.

If those 13 bones beneath the ren tree did belong to the unfortunate castaway, where are the rest of her remains? Tom King, TIGHAR’s former chief archaeologist, thinks that coconut crabs can answer that question.

Nikumaroro is home to thousands of the colossal creatures, which can grow to a terrifying 3 feet across and weigh 9 pounds. They’re sometimes called robber crabs because of their penchant for absconding with objects that smell like food, and they’ll eat practically anything—coconuts, fruit, birds, rodents, other crabs, their own discarded body parts, and carrion.

It’s not unreasonable, then, to think that coconut crabs may have feasted on Earhart’s corpse and then taken her bones home with them. In one experiment to test the theory, TIGHAR researchers deposited a pig carcass on the island and filmed the aftermath. With the help of small strawberry hermit crabs, coconut crabs stripped the pig down to the bone in two weeks. After a year, some of the bones had been dragged 60 feet from the carcass’s original location, and some were never recovered at all.

King believes Earhart’s missing 193 bones could be hidden in the burrows of various coconut crabs. As in the pig experiment, crabs may have scattered some of Earhart’s bones dozens of feet away, but maybe not all of them—after all, the forensic dogs smelled bones near the ren tree that haven’t yet been located. Right now, TIGHAR is working with the Canine Forensics Foundation to further explore the area.

While we wait for more answers, dive into these other theories about Earhart’s disappearance.

[h/t National Geographic]

The Cat Sanctuary That Sits Near the Ancient Roman Site Where Julius Caesar Was Murdered

ClaireLucia/iStock via Getty Images Plus
ClaireLucia/iStock via Getty Images Plus

Cats will sleep anywhere—even in ancient ruins. Located in Rome, Colonia Felina di Torre Argentina is a cat sanctuary on the site where conspirators stabbed Julius Caesar 22 times outside the Theatre of Pompey, on March 15 44 BCE. Centuries later, in 1929, Mussolini excavated the area to reveal four temples that are 20 feet below the street level. Today, it’s the oldest open-air spot in Rome.

Bystanders can view the temple complex known as Largo di Torre Argentina from the fenced-off street, but according to Conde Nast Traveler, after a $1.1 million restoration process, the sanctuary will open to tourists in the second half of 2021. For now, the only living things allowed in the sacred area (area sacra) are feral cats.

According to Colonia’s website, they are "the most famous cat sanctuary in Italy” and also the oldest in Rome. Many of the cats fall into the special needs category: Some are disabled, missing part of a paw, or are blind; the special needs and elderly cats live in a walled-off area. Volunteers—a.k.a. gattare, or cat ladies—take good care of them, and some cats are available for adoption.

Atlas Obscura reports that “since the mid-1990s, the population has grown from about 90 to a peak of 250” cats and notes that the sanctuary has a spay/neuter program. From the street, visitors can watch gatti like the three-legged Pioppo and Lladrò—known as “poisonous kitten” because of how angry he was when he got there—sunbathe and sleep under pillars.

It’s unclear if the cats are respecting Caesar or disrespecting the fallen leader. However, a gift shop is open to visitors, and people can donate money toward the cats and/or volunteer.

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