How many of these animal myths did you believe were true?
One dog year equals seven human years
myth is thought to have come about from the fact that dogs do generally live about one seventh as long as humans. Put into practise, though, and the equation gets a little dicey. For example, it would mean that a two-year-old dog would be the equivalent of a 14-year-old human but this doesn’t tally up in terms of development. A phenomenal amount of development happens in the first year of a dog’s life, which is more like 14 human years. Plus, large dog breeds develop at a different pace to small breeds and may live longer.
Camels store water in their humps
It would be marvellous if a camel’s humps were essentially big water coolers strapped to their backs, but it just isn’t so. The humps are actually used to store fatty tissue, which means that instead of having a thicker layer of fat all over their bodies, they instead have it concentrated in one place, enabling them to keep cooler in high temperatures. It’s easy to see why the water cooler hump myth arose, given the camel’s phenomenal ability to exist without water. The mass of fatty tissue in the humps will release water to evaporate from the lungs when it’s metabolised. In addition to this, a camel’s red blood cells are oval-shaped, so they can help blood flow even when dehydrated. A camel can lose far more weight as water than other mammals before suffering cardiac problems and when a camel breathes out, water vapour is trapped in its nostrils, which is then reabsorbed. A camel can go for weeks without drinking, but when it does, it can knock back as much as 200 litres at once.
Bats are blind
Bats actually have fully working eyes and are definitely not blind. Fruit bats have evolved to have quite big eyes and use them to locate the fruit in trees that wouldn’t be picked up by echolocation. Insect-eating bats mainly use echolocation to find food and also avoid flying into objects. The bat will send out a stream of high-pitched noise through their nose or mouth. This then bounces off objects, sending back an echo that informs a bat of an object’s size, location, texture and shape. Hard-bodied insects sound different to soft-bodied ones, so a bat can even distinguish different species. Even though insect-eating bats primarily use echolocation, they also use sight for seeing large objects or recognising geographical locations.
Bulls react violently to the colour red
Spanish matadors have used red capes as part of their attire since the 18th century, but it has nothing to do with antagonising the bull. A bull’s reaction is to the movement, not the colour. Bulls will attack whatever is moving the most, regardless of its colour. Flapping objects can alarm cattle, so this, along with previous experience of bullrings, means they expect attack and pain. Bulls are usually stabbed before a fight to agitate and weaken them, so the iconic red matador cape is really just a mask to hide the blood of a tortured animal.
You are never more than six feet away from a rat
This idea was popularised by a 1909 book that stated there was one rat for every human. W R Boelter’s book, The Rat Problem, put forward the theory that there was one rat per acre of cultivated land in England, which worked out to be 40 million acres (and 40 million rats). There also happened to be 40 million people, which resulted in the six feet theory.
More-recent research suggests a rat population of 10.5 million in the UK, with a human population of 60 million. This gives one rat for every six people. Once the size of the UK is added to the equation, the myth should be: ‘you are never more than 164 feet away from a rat’. Not quite as dramatic.
Birds will reject their young if you touch them
It’s difficult to know where this myth originated, as birds don’t have a strong sense of smell, so it’s unlikely that they could detect if a human touched their young. A person standing near a nest will probably prevent the parent bird returning straight away, but most birds are very determined and so human interference won’t put them off. That doesn’t mean it is a good idea to touch chicks or eggs and the myth may have actually started as a way to keep people away.
A swan’s wing can break your arm
Anyone who has seen a swan flapping about will know that they can be very frightening, and this is exactly the point. Swans are extremely defensive of their nest and young, so won’t think twice about chasing anyone who gets too near. They flap their wings to increase their size and look more threatening, but they have hollow bones so aren’t as strong as they look. In theory they could break the arm of an elderly person or a child, but it would be rare.
You eat spiders when you are sleeping
This myth was created in 1993 by journalist Lisa Holst, as part of an article about how people would believe anything on the internet – she proved her point. The fact is that we move too much in our sleep for a spider to come near us.
Ostriches bury their head in the sand
Male ostriches dig large holes in which to protect the eggs. The eggs need to be turned frequently, which means they have to lower their heads and turn with their beaks. Because they are bending down into a hole, it looks as though they are burying their heads.
If you cut an earthworm in two it becomes separate creatures
At first glance an earthworm looks the same at both ends but like most creatures, it has one end for putting food in and one end for pushing food out. If cut in two, the back half won’t grow a head and so will die. The front half might survive, though.
Owls can turn their heads 360 degrees
Owls are unable to rotate their eyes in their sockets like most animals, so they need to turn their heads to see. But unlike the comic character of an owl’s head whizzing all the way around, the most they can manage is 270 degrees.
Birds swell up and die if they eat rice thrown at weddings
It’s true that rice swells up when cooked or soaked in water for a long time, but many wild birds eat rice and grains without coming to any harm. The rice will start to digest before it can swell up, so doesn’t pose a threat, although its not very nutritious, so it’s perhaps not the best thing for them to eat.
Lobsters mate for life
This myth is possibly down to an episode of Friends, where Phoebe says a lobster mates for life, but they don’t. They will mate for a week or two and then the two go their separate ways.