Can Giraffes Talk? (And Other Weird Animal Myths You’ve Believed All Your Life)
Our whole lives, we have believed some pretty outlandish things about many animals. Some of these widespread beliefs are true, but others are based on nothing more than wild imagination. You were always told bats are blind, camels store water in their humps, goldfish have three-second memories, and dogs and cats are color blind, but are any of those things actually true?
The truth is some of the most common beliefs are pure fiction, although some stemmed from false impressions and misinterpretations that were loosely based on grains of truth. Curious what is real and what isn’t in the animal kingdom? Join us as we debunk some of the most common animal myths and uncover answers to intriguing questions.
Myth: Camels Store Water in Their Humps
Camels are amazing animals that we associate with the desert. Because of their ability to survive for up to seven days without water and their penchant for sandy zones, we have bought into the weird myth that they store water in those lumpy humps on their backs.
Myth: Narwhals Live in the Southern Hemisphere
The unicorn of the sea is an amazing, beautiful, whale-like creature that actually belongs to the porpoise family. They can be spotted swimming in a blessing of dozens or even hundreds of narwhals. These beautiful, single-horned creatures are great swimmers and love deep, icy waters.
Myth: Sharks Live in Antarctica
While it’s true that some fish do live in the frigid waters surrounding the continent of Antarctica, the water there is too cold to sustain sharks. Some sharks do venture into the Arctic seas, which aren’t as cold as those on the southernmost point of the world.
Myth: Bats Are Blind
You’ve heard that old saying that someone is "blind as a bat." The reality is that although some species of bats don’t have the best eyesight, they are not blind at all. Some species actually see just as well as humans, possibly better.
Myth: Ostriches Put Their Heads in the Sand
Here’s one that we’ve all probably heard and probably believed. When ostriches get freaked out or terrified, they bury their heads in the sand and hope that the trouble will blindly pass them by without seeing them. If they did do this, they would die — you can’t breathe through sand.
Myth: Frogs and Toads Can Give You Warts
Here’s one you probably definitely believed as a kid — and maybe still do. Frogs and toads can give you warts if they pee on you. It’s believed that this myth was born from the visual look of amphibians with warty-looking bumps on their skin.
Myth: Giraffes Talk
The one that started this whole conversation is another big, fat myth. The amazing, beautiful, incredibly awkward giraffe has been rumored to speak. Giraffes can actually communicate with each other through some interesting means, but we’re sorry to break it to you — speech is not one of them.
Myth: Goldfish Have Really Short Memories
Glub, glub, glub — and Goldie’s memory is gone, right? Well, just because Dory can’t recall her name three seconds later doesn’t mean fish in the real world have the same problem. In fact, most fish, including the popular goldfish, can actually remember things for months, not seconds.
Myth: Sharks Swim So They Don’t Die
Here’s another one we’ve probably all heard since childhood: Sharks will die if they stop swimming. Colloquially speaking, for folks in the finance business, a "shark" just might "die" if he or she stops making moves, but in the natural world where real sharks live, this just isn’t true, at least not for all shark species.
Myth: Every Wolf Pack Has an Alpha Male
Among captive wolves, there’s a certain social order that calls for an alpha male, but in the wild, this isn’t true at all. In fact, they don’t appear to have any specified hierarchy within a pack in the wilderness. Instead, wolf packs are family groups that result in the parents as the natural "alphas," in much the same way humans behave in our family unit.
Myth: Bulls Charge When They See the Color Red
We’ve all seen those old cartoons where the matador whips and waves a red cape to get the bull to charge him. In a real bullfighting ring, you will actually see the same thing. In fact, the Spanish bullfighting rings are where the myth arose that bulls are enraged by the color red.
Myth: Sharks Can’t Get Cancer
Another weird myth that has arisen about sharks is that they can’t get cancer. The source of the myth supposedly goes back to I. William Lane, who attempted to sell shark cartilage for cancer treatment. Basically, reputable scientists insisted it was just another snake oil tactic used to make a fortune by taking advantage of folks in need.
Myth: Giraffes Only Sleep for 30 Minutes a Day
Returning to our long-necked friends, we’ve often heard that giraffes only sleep about 30 minutes a day, but this is not true. Giraffes need more sleep than that, and they typically get it, even in the wild. In fact, studies have been done to analyze just how much sleep they get.
Myth: Bears Hibernate in Winter
This is a myth that most of us have believed from an early age. When autumn comes, bears pack on the fatty pounds, go find a cave and snuggle in for a long winter full of snoring, nuzzling and loads of dreams. Many people have been seriously envious of the bear’s winter-long nap.
Myth: Cats Only Purr When They Are Happy
That comforting, cozy purring noise means your kitty is happy, right? Well, your cat certainly might be happy and purr to show appreciation for the cuddles from humans and the snuggles from kittens, but they purr at other times as well — ironically, mostly in unhappy moments.
Myth: Sharks Can Smell a Single Drop of Blood from Far Away
Our final shark myth is that sharks can smell blood — even a single drop — from miles away in the ocean. They do have highly enlarged brain regions for smelling odors, which does allow them to detect small amounts of blood in large amounts of water, but they’re not as amazing at it as all those Jaws representations.
Myth: Anteaters Vacuum Up Ants with Their Snouts
Cartoons can be educational and make us aware of unusual animals we would otherwise never see, but they aren’t always a great educational tool when it comes to describing what these animals actually do. For instance, let’s take the anteater. They are depicted as vacuuming up ants with their snouts in a lot of cartoons.
Myth: Baby Snakes Are More Venomous Than Adults
If you have ever gone hiking, you’ve probably heard this one: Baby snakes have more venom than adults. The logic is usually based on their more compact size and their inability to control their venom output in a single bit. Thankfully, both theories are a load of baloney.
Myth: Chameleons Change Colors to Blend into the Environment
Chameleons are an amazing lizard species that can change colors to blend into its environment — or maybe not. The color changes actually have nothing to do with physical appearance. Instead, the skin of the chameleon changes pigment based on the temperature and state of arousal of the creature.
Myth: Owls Can Turn Their Heads 360 Degrees
Here’s another myth completely fed by cartoons and wild imaginations: Owls can rotate their heads 360 degrees. Ouch! If you think about it, this is clearly impossible. It would mean the head would have to be detached from the neck. They can swivel their heads up to 270 degrees — which is pretty darn good range! — without damaging blood vessels in their necks or blocking blood flow to their brains.
Myth: An Earthworm Cut in Half Becomes Two Worms
Those wiggly treats for birds called earthworms have been mythicized for decades — maybe centuries — based on the idea that if you cut them in half, they live and become two worms. That’s not even remotely true. The source of the myth comes from the true fact that if an earthworm is severed at the right location, it can grow a new tail.
Myth: Elephants Use Their Trunks Like Straws
If you watch an elephant for any amount of time, you will see it use its trunk for a number of different things. They are obviously used for breathing — trunks are basically an elephant’s nose, after all — and they use them for smelling, gathering food and even caressing a loved one.
Myth: Skunks Will Always Spray You
Some people hear the word "skunk" and immediately panic. The idea of being sprayed by one is certainly an unpleasant one, and there’s a nasty myth that these curious creatures will immediately spray you if they spot you in the woods — or even in an urban setting — if you are anywhere near them.
Myth: Humans Evolved from Chimpanzees
A common misunderstanding about evolution is the idea that humans are 100% directly related to chimpanzees. While there are some close and sometimes uncanny similarities between our two species, humans are only around 98.8% similar to chimpanzees from a DNA perspective.
Myth: Mother Birds Will Abandon Babies Touched by Humans
Kids and grown-ups alike love to touch things, especially little, helpless, baby things that don’t seem to have the protection of their parents around. The myth that mother birds abandon their babies if they are touched by human hands probably came out of this fascination.
Myth: Beaver Secretions Flavor Your Ice Cream
There is a popular urban myth that a secretion called castoreum, which is isolated from the anal gland of beavers, is used for vanilla flavoring. However, while this secretion is used in certain perfumes, there is no evidence any company has ever used it for food.
Myth: Cats and Dogs Are Color Blind
It’s a very common animal myth that cats and dogs are completely color blind. The myth stemmed from a previously held scientific belief, but recent studies have shown that they have much better color vision than previously thought. Both types of animals can see blue and green and are able to see better in low light.
Myth: Lemmings Use Cliffs for Mass Suicides When They Freak Out
This is kind of a weird myth that has popped up in humorous notes throughout the centuries. Lemmings have lived in large colonies throughout history, apparently appearing out of nowhere at times — read: migration — and have exhibited some odd behaviors.
Myth: Penguins Live in the Arctic
Australia has penguins. The Galapagos Islands have penguins. Antarctica has penguins. The Arctic Circle does not have penguins. These flippered swimmers are almost entirely southern hemisphere birds that like cold waters but don’t travel between the two poles.
Myth: Mice Adore Cheese
Practically every cartoon, mousetrap and mouse stock photo give the impression that those furry little rodents adore the hard, yellow or white mold we humans love to snack on with crackers. Get ready for the shocker — mice are actually sort of indifferent to cheese!