10 Stupid Beliefs about Animals

From appearance to reality

Some beliefs are due to a lack of scientific knowledge, some come from legends and others are the cause of misspellings from one language to another or even sensory illusions! Here are just 10 of them:

1.Camels do not store water in their humps. This widespread belief comes from the fact that, while crossing the desert, they can resist up to 17 days without water under a scorching heat, while their humps are diminishing. In reality, the humps are just fat deposits that only indicate how well the animal is fed. Instead, camels can drink up to 120 liters of water at once and their ability of resisting the lack of water is due to many physiological adaptations (variable body temperature, little urine, sun radiation reflecting coat, low water percentage in the body) and the ability to store water in the ... red blood cells! So, no stomach pouches or hump... What is true is that by burning fat from the humps not only energy results but water too.

2.Polar bears are not white! Their hairs are transparent and present an empty nucleus which disperses and reflects the sunlight, which makes them appear white, just like in the case of the snow. And they appear white only soon after the seasonal molt as in time sun oxidation and grease stains slur it to yellow.

3.Bats are blind. They just use their echolocation through ultrasoundsto locate their prey and "see" their environment. Recent research has shown that the so-called fruit bats, which lack echolocation, do not only see, but their sight is comparable to that of many diurnal mammals, possessing the same ability of detecting colors.

4.Lemmings do not commit suicide! Each 4 years there is a cyclic demographical boom of the lemmings (small arctic rodents) followed by a desperate massive migration during which many die throwing themselves into the rivers, lakes and sea. It has been regarded as a collective suicide, conscious or involuntary, caused by over-population. In reality, being solitary rodents by nature, when the population booms, the stronger lemmings drive the weaker and younger ones off long before the food is depleted. The young lemmings disperse in random directions looking for vacant territory. Geographical features constrain their movements and channel them into a relatively narrow corridor and large numbers can build up leading to social friction, distress and eventually a mass panic can follow and they flee in all directions, but they do not deliberately march into the sea; this is just pure fantasy.

5.You have heard there are two rhino species in Africa: black and white. In reality, there is not any black or white rhino: both species have gray skins. This confusion comes from Afrikaans language: the Boers call the white rhino "widje", meaning "wide" from the animal's wide lips, adapted for grazing. In English, the confusion with "white" occured and in opposition, the other species was named "black". In fact, some blacks can be paler than some white rhinos. The black rhino has a pointed snout, adapted for browsing.

6.Dolphins are peaceful creatures that eat only small fish. But the ocean's largest predator, the killer whale or orca, is just an over-sized dolphin, the biggest of all: 10 (30 ft) long and 8 tonnes. Even if orcas attack even real whales, they are as playful and curious as the other dolphins.

7.Big crocodiles species, like Nile or Saltwater crocodiles have one of the most impressive jaws in the animal kingdom, which can apply several tonnes of pressure in just one bite. But they bear a surprise: the opening muscles are extremely weak. So weak that if a man holds the closed jaws of a crocodile, even a huge one, the animal won't be able to open them.

8.Ever since Bambi, a deer has been the symbol of innocence. But in the Scottish island of Rum, the deer are the executioners. In August and September, the red deer are the main predators of the chocks of petrels. They eat the heads and the legs to achieve mineral supplements necessary for the growth of their antlers, as the island's vegetation is poor.

9.Snakes do not hypnotize their prey. In fact, most of them have poor eyesight. The myth comes from the fact that their eyelids are joined and transparent. They do not blink and look like holding the eyes always open, in a hypnotic stare. Other false belief is that they do not sleep: they do it, but with their eyes open.

10. The mysterious Tasmanian tiger, which still turns on the imagination of many, was not a tiger at all (in Australia there are not any native cats, even if currently feral cats brought by Europeans are devastating its native fauna), but the world's largest marsupial carnivore. It looked like a large dog (hence its other name, the Marsupial Wolf) with stripes across its back (hence the name "tiger"), a stiff tail with a wide base (like in kangaroos or any other marsupial) and a large head.

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By    7 Jul 2007, 11:32 GMT