Weird and Strange Animal Myths

Where and why do weird and strange, completely false myths about animals evolve? What are some of the most common myths you’ve been told? I’ll share a couple that drive me crazy…

“Harvestmen have the most toxic venom of any spider in the world but you are safe because they can’t bite through human skin.” (eye roll at both the spider part and the venom part)

“Rattlesnakes are learning to be quiet if they feel threatened because feral hogs will find them and kill and eat them if they rattle their tails.” (double inverse eye cross and roll)

What wacky myths have you heard lately?

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One thing I’ve heard a few times is that cockroaches can survive a nuclear explosion. Like, the actual explosion itself.
This is probably due to confusion with the whole “cockroaches can survive nuclear radiation” factoid people tell all the time

Also, the whole goldfish having a very short memory thing

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Well, there’s the old one about lemmings committing mass suicide by jumping off cliffs… I believe we have Disney to thank for that. Never let the facts get in the way of a good story…

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Yup! https://www.ripleys.com/weird-news/or-not-lemmings/?utm_source=bion&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=topstory&utm_source=Ripley%27s+Believe+It+or+Not%21&utm_campaign=a27666e47f-blog17&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_226499d22b-a27666e47f-293540389&mc_cid=a27666e47f&mc_eid=c36cb68fe0

Here’s one: ‘science can’t explain why bumble bees fly; they are ‘too heavy’ for their wings.’ (https://www.livescience.com/33075-how-bees-fly.html)
As for where they come from, usually folk lore and old wives’ tales, and now Hollywood and other media. Sometimes things are also taken out of context, like the myth we only use 10% of our brains (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ten_percent_of_the_brain_myth).

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There is a belief that the Aye Aye’s long finger can curse people by pointing at them, also it is believed that they sneak into peoples homes and use this long finger to pick away at the hearts of their sleeping victims. Unfortunately this contributes to superstitious killings of Aye Aye’s simply for the negative connotation.

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Cats have nine lives
Ostriches bury their heads in the sand

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A bird eating a different kind of bird or a fish eating a different fish isn’t “cannibalism”
If that were true, then every time I go to In-N-Out I would be engaging in cannibalism

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I wrote a column about the myth that baby rattlesnakes are more dangerous/venomous than adult rattlesnakes: https://baynature.org/article/are-baby-rattlesnakes-the-most-dangerous-biters/

In my experience a lot of these myths persist due to a) their counterintuitive nature which b) makes you feel smart when you tell them to others. At least that was my motivation before I knew better.

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I’ll never forget what my grandfather told me when I was small:

If you hold a guinea pig up by its tail, its eyeballs will fall out

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I have also heard the spiel about some ~ultra venomous animal having a mouth too small to bite humans~ being said about Ring-neck Snakes, which is infinitely confusing.

While it is true that they aren’t biters, I’m pretty sure they only have enough venom to stun an ant or worm… I would be more confused than alarmed if one ever bit me, personally.

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I heard an amusing spin on the old “dogs smell fear” thing recently, except it was someone trying to incoherently defend spider ethics via a respect-the-animal-and-stay-calm approach.

Clearly, said person has never seen a frightened non-tarantula spider in action. They are generally so clueless that they only flee when their body/web is touched, and often would not bite if their lives depended on it! I have seen hens literally just walking up to brown widows and swallowing them; am honestly unsure how they (and the similarly timid black widows) even deal with vision-hunting vertebrates once seen. (They do play dead and run fairly fast but both seem quite ineffective!)

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I work at a nature store and I have heard some fun ones from customers:
Hummingbirds migrate on the backs of geese.
The hummingbirds that bred in this area, northern IL, just left.
One person was convinced that there was a Peregrine Falcon in his yard because it was eating a bird, and Cooper’s Hawk was out of the question.
One that I get a lot is the whole “Blue Jays are evil because they eat baby birds” thing.

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If you return a baby bird to its nest, the mother will smell your scent on it, and abandon it.

Earwigs (or spiders) crawl into the ears of sleeping people to lay eggs in their brains.

Human blood is addictive, and animals that taste it turn into “man eaters”.

Coyotes will fake a leg injury in order lure dogs into the woods, so the rest of the “pack” can attack them.

Deer don’t run when a car is coming towards them, because they are parelized with fear.

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Oh, but I can back that one up with actual observations on my own PC!!!

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lemmings_(video_game)

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In Mexico people believe that when a black witch moth (Ascalapha odorata) flies into a house then someone in the house dies.

In Mexico people also believe Jerusalem crickets (Stenopelmatus) are highly poisonous and one can die of a bite.

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Cows drown when they try to swim because they can’t close their anus muscle and just fill up with water.

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“If you return a baby bird to its nest, the mother will smell your scent on it, and abandon it.”
And yet people will pick up baby deer, I had someone call the store saying that they had found an “orphaned baby deer” in the forest preserve and they had brought it home and were wondering what to do. I told them to get back in their car right now, drive back out to the forest preserve and put it back.

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Surely very few people believe that this is literally true?

I have heard this myth about crane flies in the UK.

There used to be a similar myth with goldcrests. An old name for the goldcrest was “woodcock pilot” as it was thought they migrated on the back of a woodcock.

“If a worm is chopped in half each half will grow into a new worm.”

“Bats are blind (and get tangled in people’s hair)”. I’ve seen the hair myth debunked though I don’t think I’ve ever encountered anyone who actually believed it. I’ve certain heard encountered people thinking bats are blind.

“[European] Hornets are ultra aggressive, will try to sting you and it will be really painful” (often with someone claiming that a wasp, hover fly, or bee is a hornet). European Hornets are the least aggressive wasp in the UK and many people have never seen one.

“That’s poison ivy” (it’s Hedera helix or Hedera hibernica). I have encountered a few people who think poison ivy grows in the UK.

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