You probably think bears hibernate all winter, toads give you warts, and sharks can smell a drop of blood miles away. If that’s the case, it’s a good thing you stumbled upon this helpful article debunking the top animal myths you probably learned over the years. Do you think beavers somehow help in making vanilla? Please keep reading to decipher the facts about animals from the fiction. Sure, these animal myths might have a partial truth to them, so it is that much more important to understand these wild animal myths for what they are! Keep reading to discover the truth about your favorite animals.
23. Opossums Don’t Hang by Their Tails.
Opossums, sometimes just called possums, are marsupials that we love to hate. If you live in an area that is prone to possum infestations, you probably know that you need to make sure the lids on your trash cans are secured tightly to keep them from foraging through last night’s dinner scraps. However, they are also beneficial creatures who eat other pests that can cause even bigger problems. Oh, and another fun fact about possums? In Australia, opossums and possums actually refer to two different animals! Furthermore, they really do play dead; that feature is most certainly not a myth! Nevertheless, they have no control over when they do; playing dead is an automatic defense that kicks in when they become terrified (via National Geographic).
Many people believe that possums hang by their tails but chalk this one up to one of the many animal myths (via Mental Floss). They sometimes use their tails to swing from branches as a way of helping them climb, but they aren’t hanging there. Sometimes baby possums hang by their tails for just a few seconds at a time, but once they are full-grown, they are simply too large for their tails to support their weight (via Ranker). There is no survival or defense mechanism involved here, only a myth. One feature that is not full of myths is that they are immune to snake venom, except for the poison of coral snakes. They routinely eat snakes, and the ticks that carry Lyme disease, plus they don’t get rabies! Possums aren’t so awful after all.
At nine feet tall and up to 300 pounds, ostriches are the largest species of birds alive today. They are so large that one ostrich egg can feed an entire family! Ostriches have a reputation for being stupid and extremely shy, but nothing could be further from the truth. Ostriches have been known to attack humans, and an ostrich attack can be deadly (via HuffPost). There is a myth that they bury their heads in the sand whenever they feel afraid. However, like the other myths, think about it. These animals would suffocate very quickly if they did so. They may appear to put their heads in the sand, but this effect is an optical illusion because they are so large.
Ostriches dig holes in the ground to build nests for their eggs. They arrange those eggs several times a day. Compared to their massive bodies, their heads are so small that when they do reach down into the nest with their heads, they appear to be burying their heads in the sand. If you see an ostrich, especially in the wild, make sure you do not taunt it. Remember that these birds are both large and fierce. Plus, you may be shocked at how strong they really are. They also run extremely fast (via Ranker).
Have you ever heard someone tell you that you should not ever touch a baby bird because if you do, its mother will reject it? Maybe you have told this story to a child to try to prevent the little tyke from poking and prodding a baby bird that has fallen from the nest. And that reason is precisely why these myths may have gotten started in the first place: to prevent children from handling baby birds that have been separated from their mothers. However, birds actually lack a well-developed sense of smell, so the mother bird would be unable to detect if a human has handled the baby. Plus, mother birds are highly devoted to their young (via National Geographic)!
If you see a baby bird lying on the ground, you should leave it. Chances are that the bird is learning to fly and is waiting for its mother to show it the next step. Trying to remove the bird and raise it on your own will actually separate it from its family (via The Spruce). Plus, being a wild animal, it may carry germs that you do not want to introduce to your home. If you notice a nest of baby birds in your yard or out in the park, feel free to snap some pictures to share with others. But as with other wild animals, leave them alone.
Speaking of birds, who does not love penguins? Unlike other birds, whose bones are hollow to allow them to fly through the air, penguin bones are solid so that they can glide through the water! Moreover, their distinctive “tuxedo” markings are actually a form of camouflage to protect them when they dive. Their dark backs, which are visible from above, blend in with the dark ocean floor beneath them (via Business Insider). Their white bellies, visible from below, mimic the brightness coming in from the sun. Penguins live in groups known as “waddles” (how cute is that?!). A waddle can consist of hundreds and hundreds of birds.
A myth begins around World War II, suggesting that if a penguin looks up to view an aircraft, it will fall over backward (via Independent). The story started when World War II pilots flying over Antarctica claimed they saw penguins falling over, but scientific attempts to prove the story true have all come up negative. It is easy to debunk these myths. Why? Because they are perfectly capable of remaining firmly on the ground with a sure footing. There is, however, a perfect reason why airplanes should not fly low where there are penguins gathered. The sound of the plane will scare the penguins and make them leave their nests.
Most vanilla you consume is artificial unless you specifically check to make sure that it is real. That milkshake from McDonald’s or the pint of ice cream from the grocery store? Probably not real vanilla, but delicious all the same. There is a myth that a secretion from the anal glands of beavers, a substance called castoreum, is used to make artificial flavorings, including vanilla and perfume. Perhaps you have heard this one, like the other animal myths, and took a hiatus from ice cream until you remembered just how good the stuff really is! Rest assured, castoreum costs up to $70 per pound, making it far too expensive to use as a vanilla substitute. Not only does the FDA tightly regulate artificial vanilla, but in 2011, the Vegetarian Resource Group appealed to five companies that make artificial vanilla to find out if castoreum is used (via Ranker). The answer was an unequivocal no.
Now that you don’t need to worry about whether your favorite ice cream is made with beaver butt juice, you can hopefully appreciate these brilliant creatures a little bit more! Their defining feature is not their butt but their tail, which can make a loud noise when slapped against the water. Beavers make this noise to warn their families of danger. They live in colonies of about eight, and these colonies closely resemble human families, consisting of a monogamous pair and their children (via National Geographic). Beavers tend to care for their young for almost two years before heading off to begin their own families. Moreover, they build magnificent dams that really can block rivers.
The origin of this myth should not surprise anyone. Frogs and toads — especially toads — are covered in tiny bumps that look like warts. Some people think that the nodes are contagious and will spread to humans; given the unappealing sound that toads make combined with the unattractive bumps, understanding why some people might be inclined to believe this story is not all that difficult. Nevertheless, the fact is that warts on humans are caused by viruses, not by handling toads (via National Geographic). That is not to say that you should be playing with toads, though. They have glands behind their ears that contain a substance that irritates the mouths of potential predators; this substance can also harm human skin.
Just what is the difference between frogs and toads? Both frogs and toads can have bumpy skin, but frogs tend to have a slimy appearance, while toads look dry (be aware that looks can be deceiving, though!) Frogs are also longer and leaner than toads, with bodies much more adapted for jumping and swimming (via LiveScience). Toads tend to be prowlers that walk along with the land rather than jumpers, so they are much stouter, have shorter legs, and all-around appear much less athletic than frogs. Still, they are somewhat similar, laying eggs in water that hatch as tadpoles. If you are looking at a tadpole, you may not be able to tell if it is a frog or a toad. Keep reading for more wild animal myths.
Colorblindness is when someone is unable to distinguish between specific colors, or in some cases, unable to see color at all. We see colors because of rods in the back of our eyes, which detect the different shades and send messages to our brains to decipher. Dogs and cats do not see color the same way their human counterparts do, so people have assumed that they are colorblind for many years. However, they are not (via Business Insider). They may actually have more rods than we do, a feature that enables them to see better than their owners when there is less light.
Cats may detect red and pink colors as being more greenish, and instead of purple, they may only see blue (via National Geographic). Dogs probably can see only about one-seventh of the color vibrancy as humans, so no, your furry friend cannot tell that you are wearing the shirt with his or her picture on it. Nevertheless, they do not need to see colors the same way that we do for them to make excellent companions. Just remember that before you get a pet, make sure that you can care for it properly, including giving it enough time every day. Furthermore, stay away from unethical breeders who may be running “puppy mills;” instead, call your local animal shelter and see about adopting. Keep reading for more animal myths!
Lemmings are a kind of mouse-like rodents known as voles, and they thrive in the tundra and open areas (via National Geographic). They are prolific in the Arctic regions and are the only rodent whose coat turns white in the winter, providing a kind of camouflage to blend in with the snow. Moreover, despite what many people have said, they do not commit mass suicide. There is no telling where these myths actually began. However, it gained significant traction with the 1958 Disney documentary White Wilderness. In this film, before modern ethics applied to filmmaking, the creators actually faked the entire scene depicting a mass suicide of lemmings. In fact, the film was made in Alberta, Canada, where there are no lemmings; the filmmakers had to buy the lemmings that they used from local Inuit children.
As the lemmings crossed a small stream, the narrator of the film said, “A kind of compulsion seizes each tiny rodent and, carried along by an unreasoning hysteria, each fall into step for a march that will take them to a strange destiny.” To stage the mass suicide, the lemmings were put onto a turntable surface, not at all unlike a Lazy Susan that you may have in your kitchen. After they supposedly cast themselves off a cliff (when they had really been forced), the final shot showed the sea below completely awash in lemmings who drowned themselves. What exactly compelled the filmmakers to stage an utterly made-up event and create these ongoing myths, killing dozens of lemmings in the process, is unclear (via Ranker). Today, such an attempt would likely lead to fines, if not jail sentences.
Myths about evolution linger. Nevertheless, this does not mean that evolution is an incorrect way of explaining human origins. Evolution explains so much about the natural world that we can hardly afford to ignore it; plus, many of our medications and life-enhancing (even lifesaving) therapies are developed based on understandings of evolution. If you are a naysayer about evolution, you have probably heard someone say derisively (or perhaps have said yourself) that people did not come from monkeys. And this is absolutely true, not only because chimpanzees are not monkeys. We did not evolve from chimpanzees, gorillas, orangutans, or any other simian currently in existence (via Business Insider). That is not how evolution works.
Evolution says that we had a common ancestor with today’s simians — monkeys, apes, and lemurs — not that we are directly related to them. This common ancestor likely evolved into several different species, and one of those species went on to become homo sapiens, in other words, humans. The other species went on to produce more of today’s simians, including chimpanzees and monkeys. So yes, we do share almost 99 percent of our DNA with these tree-swinging animals (via National Geographic). However, we are much more distant from them than evolution deniers may suggest. Instead of re-checking your high school textbook from decades ago, you may want to read up on current research regarding what evolution says about human origins.
Have you ever heard the phrase “blind as a bat?” Maybe you have said that you are blind as a bat, but the term means not blind at all in a scientific sense. The myth about bats being blind may have emerged from their use of echolocation, which is when they make noises with their mouth and judge where they are based on the echoes they detect. Echolocation allows bats to navigate very dark areas, including caves. Nevertheless, they can see perfectly fine. Not all bats are nocturnal, meaning that they only go out at night, but they can find food in complete darkness (via Nature).
There are plenty of facts about bats that are not myths. One is that bats make up one-quarter of all mammals globally, but nearly all bat species in North America are either endangered or in severe decline. Their droppings, known as guano, make one of the richest fertilizers in the world, and they can eat their entire body weight in mosquitoes every night (via Business Insider). Bats are pretty important animals who keep mosquito populations in check and help make farmland as fertile as possible. We need to protect bats, so they stay around for a long time.
Few things stir up the human imagination quite like sharks. Blockbusters about these champions of evolution include the Jaws series and the more recent The Meg, about a prehistoric monster that once roamed the seas. Stories about shark attacks are both thrilling and terrifying, especially when there seems to be a series of attacks that may be from one shark. And here we get one of the most prolific myths about them, that they can smell a drop of blood from miles away. Some people refuse to get into the ocean water if they have a simple cut from shaving their legs, for free that they may attract a shark.
Sharks have an incredibly keen sense of smell, and yes, they can detect one drop of blood in as many as ten billion drops of water (via Business Insider). That’s about one drop of blood in an Olympic-sized swimming pool! Of course, the ocean is much larger than all of the swimming pools in the entire world, and it is simply too large for sharks to be able to smell the cut from shaving your leg from a mile away. Still, avoiding the ocean water may be a good idea if you have a cut because the area can get infected (via AMNH).
12. Starbucks Uses Bugs in Strawberry Frappuccinos
Frappuccinos are lovely cold and sweet coffee treats that can really hit the spot. Starbucks, the pioneer of these frozen cappuccinos, has created dozens of flavors. They are sure to satisfy anyone, as long as the drinkers are willing to tolerate the high sugar content combined with caffeine. Furthermore, there is a myth around one of these frappuccinos, the strawberry one, claiming that it actually contains bugs. The first part of this myth is that there is such a thing as a strawberry frappuccino. A frappuccino, or frozen cappuccino, has coffee, whereas the strawberry one does not (via Ranker). It’s really just a milkshake in a Starbucks cup.
Now, do these treats contain bugs? The correct answer is not anymore. Before the spring of 2012, the strawberry frappuccino had a dye made from pulverized bug parts sourced from farmers in Central and South America. The dye was formerly known as “cochineal red” and simply known as “carmine color.” In April 2012, Starbucks ceased using the bug-based dye in its products, but many other products that you probably use still do contain it (via Business Insider). These include candies such as Nerds, grapefruit juice, and even cosmetics. Many shades of lipsticks have carmine color to get the perfect red color so that you may be putting bug dye on your lips.
Have you ever heard of a snake-oil salesman? A snake-oil salesman is trying to sell people a cure-all that has not been proven to work on anything. The term comes from the fact that way back when these unethical peddlers would sell snake oil and claim that it was a miraculous cure for whatever ailed people. One more recent snake-oil salesman was Dr. I. William Lane and his co-writer, Linda Comac, who wrote a 1992 book entitled Sharks Don’t Get Cancer. The updated version came out four years later, in 1996, with the title Sharks Still Don’t Get Cancer. But the whole story is a untrue, like the other animal myths on this list (via Business Insider).
Lane was a naturopathic doctor whose son ran a company that sold shark cartilage as an anti-cancer preventative and treatment. To help his son sell his products, he claimed that sharks do not get cancer. However, studies have shown that, in fact, they do. Scientists have found dozens of shark species with tumors. That includes a great white shark with a large mouth tumor and a head tumor on a bronze whaler shark in 2013. Cancer in sharks is rare, but it certainly does happen (via LiveScience). Chalk this one, and other myths, up to a snake-oil salesman who hoped to get rich. Instead, he got a huge fine.
If you ever saw the children’s movie Finding Nemo or any of its spin-offs, then you certainly remember the loveable dunce, Dory, who was unable to remember any information. She was not a goldfish, but there is a pretty common myth that goldfish cannot remember any information for longer than three seconds. Some have even said that every time a goldfish circles its bowl, it does so for the first time. A high school student in Australia debunked that myth in 2008. How did they prove these myths wrong? When Rory Stokes was 15, he was unconvinced that evolution could favor an animal who could not recall any information because animals require memories to survive. So, he designed an experiment to test if goldfish can remember information (via The Age).
Rory used a red Lego to condition a group of goldfish where their food would be. They caught on quite quickly and even remembered the red Lego weeks after its original use (via Business Insider). Goldfish have perfectly fine memories, and they do remember their fishbowl longer than the time it takes to circle it. In fact, they prefer aquatic environments that are more challenging and stimulating, so if you have goldfish, do them a favor and add some obstacles to their tank. Also, goldfish are not necessarily small; instead, they grow to the size of their environment. Goldfish who live in ponds rather than tanks are closer to the size of fish that you would catch for food.
The myth that sharks have to keep swimming or else they will suffocate is only partially true (via Business Insider). Some breeds of sharks are unable to pass water over their gills on their own, so they have to continue swimming to breathe. However, other sharks can pass water over their gills without swimming. That means they are able to rest on the seafloor for extended periods. One fascinating fact about sharks is that they can swim at different depths. How? Because they do not have a swim bladder. This body part is an adaptation that other fish have.
A swim bladder fills with varying amounts of air to provide buoyance that allows the fish to swim at a certain depth (via Brittanica). If it goes too deep or too shallow without giving the swim bladder time to adjust, the fish puts its life in danger. Because sharks do not have a swim bladder, their bodies do not compress or decompress with the depth, and therefore, they can swim up and down the entire water column. They also have enormous livers with a lot of oil, which is lighter than water and gives them added buoyancy. No wonder sharks have been around since before the first dinosaurs came into existence! Keep reading about more animal myths that follow these creepy water creatures!
In fact, only one kind of ray is poisonous. Rays are closely related to sharks, and they are so similar that some sharks look like rays and vice-versa. Rays are generally much flatter, almost like flattened sharks. They may not hold the same power over our psyches are sharks do, but they are an incredibly diverse species. There are more than 600 different kinds of rays, and they live everywhere, from the frigid Antarctic waters to the warm seas (via Deep Ocean Facts). Many live in freshwater rivers in South America. Some sharks can travel into freshwater, but there are no species of sharks that can live exclusively in freshwater.
The only kind of ray that has a poisonous stinger is the stingray (via AMNH). Nevertheless, even among stingrays, there is an incredible level of diversity. There are about 185 species and 35 that live solely in freshwater habitats. The stings are used solely for defense and are triggered when the ray feels pressure on its back. People who live in areas with stingrays know that they need to shuffle their feet in the water rather than walk. That way, instead of stepping on the stingrays, they kick them out of the way. One of the very few human deaths caused by stingrays was that of Steve Irwin, the “Crocodile Hunter,” when he was filming a documentary.
Are you ready for more animal myths about sharks? Sharks hold such a strong sway over our imaginations that many people believe, falsely, that all sharks are dangerous and should be avoided at all costs. The second part is mostly true; sharks are wild animals, and wild animals should be left alone. The first part is patently untrue. About 350 species of sharks swim in the world’s oceans. Plus, only a few of them are considered dangerous to humans. Many of them are too small to pose any real threat (via AMNH). Furthermore, 75% of all shark species are either unable to harm a human or unlikely to ever come into contact with a human.
Two species of sharks, the whale shark and the basking shark, do not even have any visible teeth, and they primarily consume plankton (via Ocean Info). You are actually 30 times more likely to be struck by lightning than to be attacked by a shark. Besides, you should remember that an attack does not necessarily mean a fatality. Most sharks are predators, but they are not looking for humans to devour. Instead, they generally eat fish and other ocean-dwelling creatures. Seals and sea lions are a favorite for larger species, and when a human does become a victim of a shark attack, they usually wear a wet suit that looks like a seal.
The tradition of throwing rice at weddings dates back to the Middle Ages and is based on practices in Ancient Egypt. However, many modern wedding planners now opt for bubbles instead of rice out of the misguided belief that wedding rice kills birds. Their intentions are certainly benevolent (there is no need to kill birds unnecessarily!). The fact is that wedding rice does not kill birds. Many people have heard that the rice expands in the birds’ stomachs and causes them to explode, but this story, like others on this list, are all complete myths (via Ranker). The rice thrown at weddings is just like any other rice before it is cooked.
Cooked rice certainly does expand, usually to about double its original size. However, it does not expand nearly enough to cause harm to the pigeons and other birds that may eat it. In reality, the birdseed that they normally consume expands in their stomachs more than rice does (via Mental Floss). That means the wedding rice they may nibble on is hardly even a snack. However, birds should certainly not be fed human foods regularly, as it does not contain the nutrients they need and can cause them to die of starvation. Next time you go to a pond hoping to feed some ducks, instead of bread, give them grapes that have been cut in half or other foods that are more appropriate to their diets.
5. Pit Bulls Are No More Dangerous Than Other Dog Breeds
Animal shelters routinely fill up with pit bulls because people are reluctant to adopt them, out of a misguided belief that pit bulls are particularly harmful and dangerous breeds. Based on these unfounded myths, some homeowner’s insurance policies actually prohibit the insurance holder from owning a pit bull at the resi myth (via Forbes). In reality, these doggies are super playful and affectionate, and many pit bull owners would not have any other dog! The exception is when pit bulls have been specifically trained to be forceful, and when this is the case, they are as dangerous as other dogs who have been trained to be aggressive.
Many other dog breeds that make excellent family pets have been bred from originally quite aggressive dogs. For example, if you have a German shepherd, a Doberman, or a Rottweiler, you have a dog whose ancestors were originally bred to protect (via The Spruce Pets). For this reason, these dogs make excellent guard dogs and will instinctively protect their humans. They are not necessarily aggressive, though, unless trained to be. If you consider adopting a dog to be a family pet, a pit bull would be an excellent option. Call your animal shelter, explain what concerns you may have about aggression, and let the professional staff help you find the best dog for you.
When people think of this specific spider, they often imagine what they believe to be the most poisonous spider in the world. However, the moniker often given to spiders with skinny, long legs is not exactly accurate. Many pholcid spiders are referred to as daddy long legs when they actually have a different name (via Ranker). Moreover, if you happen to encounter one of these spiders (or spider-like creatures, because some critters that people refer to as “daddy long legs” are not even spiders), you do not need to worry about a poisonous bite. There are simply no records of these spiders biting a human and causing any level of harm (via NCBI).
If there were the potential for harm, scientists would have done studies involving milking the spiders for venom and injecting the poison into a test subject to determine the reaction. After all, if there is the potential for harm, pharmaceutical companies would want to capitalize on any potential antidote! This experiment has never been done because there has never been the threat of harm. In fact, there have never been toxicology studies performed on any pholcid spiders, as they do not pose a threat to humans (via Healtline). Some spiders do. Daddy long legs and other pholcids are just not in that category but keep reading about other animal myths.
There are several animal myths surrounding man’s best friend. Popular wisdom suggests that a dog with a wet nose is healthy, and a dog with a dry nose is sick. However, this is simply not true. The wetness on a dog’s nose is very similar to the sweat on a human’s skin and indicates the level of activity, not overall health (via VCA). Dogs actually have mucous glands on their nose that help them smell better, and when they lick their noses, they are sampling whatever it is that they have just smelled. If you are concerned that your dog may not feel well, do not touch its nose to determine for yourself. A wet and cold nose has nothing to do with dog sickness.
If you are concerned about determining whether or not your dog is sick, look for significant changes in your dog’s behavior (via Ranker). If Fido is not eating as much as usual or acting lethargic instead of his energetic self, there is probably a problem. Generally, you should call your vet if you have a concern. If the vet does not say to bring the dog in right away, monitor its condition for 24 hours to see if things worsen. If they do, bring the dog in right away. A dog who is listless, wheezing, or has a runny nose should be taken to the vet immediately because its condition is likely life-threatening.
Bears and hibernation go together like peanut butter and jelly. Whenever children learn about bears in school, one of the first things that they are taught is that bears sleep through the winter during a period called hibernation. Nevertheless, in reality, what bears do is not true hibernation, meaning they do not go entirely dormant for the entire season. They go into more of a state of suspended animation that includes a very deep and long sleep that resembles hibernation. However, these bears will undoubtedly wake up if necessary. So, if you ever encounter a sleeping bear during the winter, do not try to poke at it! It very well could wake up and give you a very, very bad time.
Let’s put some true behind these myths. Rodents are the champions of hibernation, particularly Arctic squirrels (via BBC). These guys usually have a body temperature of about 99 degrees Fahrenheit. However, during the winter months, they can drop their body temperatures to below freezing. Then, bears go into a period of complete dormancy for several weeks. They then wake up to warm their body temperatures up, then go back to sleep for the remainder of the winter. Unlike squirrels, bears do not cool their body temperatures in the winter, and this drop is a core component of true hibernation. They take a long nap that helps them survive food scarcity (via Ranker).
Here is the final one of the wildest animal myths that most people still believe. This myth may be one of the last to die in the world of animal mythology (via Ranker). Matadors, or Spanish bullfighters, began using red capes in the 1700s as part of their technique of getting the bull to charge and exciting the crowd. However, the trigger that gets bulls to charge is the cape itself, not the color. They will charge at capes that are purple, blue, yellow, green, or any other color. Nevertheless, red seems to be a fan favorite and a tradition in this Spanish pastime. The tradition is so deep that matadors generally wear costumes that match the red cape and never fathom any other color.
There are many other myths about animals. One is that the wolfpack leader is alpha when in reality, wolfpacks function much more like human families and have a complex social structure (via Mental Floss). Another is that lice prefer long and oily hair. Nevertheless, lice are equal opportunity invaders. Moreover, that hump on a camel’s back does not store water. A camel can go for up to a week without water, but not because it is sucking up fluids from underneath its ubiquitous hump. The hump is actually full of fatty tissue to help the animal survive long stretches without food. In reality, they are so effective at extracting water from their food and storing it in their kidneys that they can go without fluids for several days.