The 10 Most Commonly Believed Animal ‘Facts’ That Are Actually Complete Myths

As a kid, you probably had stickers of your favorite animals plastered all over your pencil box. When you grew up, there’s a good chance you put a picture of your favorite pet as your smartphone’s background. Animals have a heavy presence in most of our lives, but while we sometimes think we’re experts on them, not everything we “know” about the Animal Kingdom is true…

Many of the facts we’ve been exposed to over the years about the animals we know and love — yep, even dogs and cats — aren’t grounded in reality. So, to not look like fools when our friends Google our animal-claims, let’s debunk some common beastly myths we’ve believed for most of our lives!

1. Dogs: To train “man’s best friend,” we often insist on dominating or scaring them and making sure that we’re the “alpha.” The theory is that because wolves choose an alpha leader (or do they?), our loyal canines respond to the alpha-beta relationship, too.

While wolves in captivity sometimes choose a leader, wild packs don’t necessarily do that: they just follow whoever they trust at the time. That being said, your dog should know how to listen to you, but you don’t have to scare its waggy tail away.

2. Penguins: Who doesn’t love penguins? Happy Feet and March Of The Penguins have made us swoon over these waddling antarctic seabirds… but they actually aren’t all that friendly towards each other in the wild. They’re actually kind of messed up.

Even the most depraved human can look like a saint compared to your average penguin. Female penguins have been found to kidnap and exploit more fertile penguins, and males engage in all sorts of nasty practices with both living and dead penguins.

3. Zebras: What’s the evolutionary reason zebras have stripes? People have wondered this for ages, and many believe they’re camouflage or optical illusions that help them blend into their environments and keep predators away. But this is not the case…

Researchers found the stripes just help ward off biting flies and other insects, from which horses (the zebra’s cousins) often suffer. They may not fool any lions, but we’d rather just get eaten than plagued by bugs.

4. Piranhas: Known as one of the scariest underwater creatures, Piranhas have been featured in the media as blood-thirsty, man-eating monsters that will rip apart and devour anyone who crosses their path. The truth?

Sure, they do have razor-sharp teeth that can tear flesh right off, but here’s the thing: they mostly feed off animals that are already dead! In fact, people in the Amazon tread piranha-infested waters all the time, so don’t freak out if you see one.

5. Sloths: Their name literally means “slow,” and they truly are. But unfortunately for them, they’re the only animal named after a sin: extreme laziness. This isn’t the case, though.

In captivity, sloths don’t need to gather food or hide from predators, so they sleep around 16 hours per day. However, in the wild, they only sleep around 9 hours — just like humans! Then again, some of us are pretty lazy, too.

6. Cats: “A cat will always land on its feet.” It’s not just a saying, it’s also a common belief. And while cats really are good at spinning around mid-fall so they can land paws-down instead of on their pretty heads, they can’t always do it.

Only full-grown cats can do this. Secondly, the cat needs to be at least 30cm (or a foot) in the air so it has enough time to spin. Lastly, cats without a tail sadly have a harder time doing this because their balance is off. Still a neat trick, though!

7. Praying mantis: A common misconception is that praying mantises pray all the time. Just kidding. But people do believe that the females always eats the male’s head after procreating. Yikes…

This only occurred between mantises that were part of an experiment. They were starving, which resulted in them eating each other. Also, the male could just as well have snapped off the female’s head. That’s right — equality.

8. Pigs: Other than in Babe and Charlotte’s Web, pigs tend to get a pretty bad rap. They’re said to be messy, fat, and sweaty. We even have a saying: “sweating like a pig.” But that couldn’t be less accurate!

Pigs don’t actually have working sweat glands, which is why they cool down in the mud so often. They never pass waste near their living space and even wash their food, which makes them cleaner than most of us.

9. Komodo dragons: As far as reptiles go, the Komodo dragon is pretty terrifying. Many believe that, like alligators, they have really strong jaws and can bite their living prey to bits, but this is not the case.

It wasn’t discovered until 2009 that Komodo dragons actually spew venom when they bite their victims, after which they just wait until their food gets weak and they can eat it in peace. Which means we still suggest avoiding them at all costs!

10. Earwigs: For centuries, people all over the planet have collectively shared one great fear: an earwig worming its way into their ears and laying eggs. But don’t worry. Those fears aren’t grounded in reality.

They’re called ear-wigs because their wings are shaped like a human ear! They can’t fly well, so it would be hard to reach a human ear, and the mother wig stays with her babies — she wouldn’t leave them in an ear.

We often fall for these lies about animals because, let’s face it, the animal kingdom is full of spectacular creatures with traits and behaviors that almost sound made up.

Chameleons’ tongues, for instance, can go from zero to 60 miles an hour in a 100th of a second, so they only need 20 milliseconds to snatch their next meals. The list of amazing animal behaviors never ends.

Smarter Every Day / YouTube

2. The blue whale is the largest known mammal to ever exist. The largest recorded blue whale was 98.09 feet in length and weighed 173 tons. Their tongues alone are about 3 tons each, which is about twice the weight of a Toyota Camry.

3. Bats can range in weight anywhere from less than an ounce to several pounds. The bones in their legs and feet are so thin that even the smallest of bat’s legs are too weak to hold them up.

iStockphoto

4. Just as humans have a dominant hand, either right or left, Elephants do, too. Well, they are either right-tusk or left-tusk dominant. You can tell which side they favor because one tusk will be more worn down than the other.

Elephant Voices

5. Hippopotamus sweat acts as a natural sunscreen. Initially, their sweat is clear and dries to a red-orange color, then to a brown color. Good thing! The sun in the sub-Saharan African terrain is extremely strong.

YouTube

6.  Cows “go to the bathroom” around 15 times per day. They also produce, on average, 65 pounds of manure per day — or 12 tons in a year! No wonder farms are so fragrant. 

Think Stock

7. Elephant seals spend their days hunting in the deep sea. In fact, the deepest recorded elephant seal dive was to a whopping depth of 7,835 feet. They can hold their breathes for up to two hours while deep diving, and they’ll even stop blood from circulating to certain organs in the process.

Justin Hofman / Nature’s Best Photography

8. Dolphins can stay awake for about two weeks at a time. When a dolphin does need to recharge, it has the ability to let half of its brain go to sleep and keep the other half awake. This allows them to come up for air and be alert to impending predators.

Earth, Wind, and Daisies

9. Once a mother kangaroo is pregnant, she will give birth about 30-36 days after conception. The joey is born about 2 cm long — or about the size of a lima bean. Then, they crawl into their mother’s pouch and develop further for the next 9 months.

10. Homo sapiens have been around for about 200,000 years; meanwhile, the oldest known bee fossil was found in a mine in the Hukawng Valley of Myanmar (Burma), and is about 100 million years old.

11. It’s a common misconception that camels store water in their humps and that’s how they go long periods of time without water. In reality, on average, a camel can drink about 30 gallons of water in around 13 minutes. 

12. A reindeer’s eyes will change color based on the season. During the summer months, their eyes are golden, but in the winter, they change to blue. This helps them see better during the dark Arctic days.

David McDougall

13. African buffaloes hold votes to determine which direction the herd should go. This is decided based on what direction the majority of the females in the heard are facing. That’s right: only the females are allowed to vote!

Living Like Water

14. Certain species of female dragonflies will actually freeze mid-flight and go crashing down to the ground in an effort to fake their own deaths. They do this because they are trying to avoid mating with certain males.

Dreamstime

15. Starfish have the ability to regenerate lost limbs. They are known to rip off one of their appendages if they feel like they’re in danger. The original starfish will regrow its lost appendage, and the lost appendage will actually grow an entirely new starfish.

BBC / YouTube

16. Manatees regulate their buoyancy by using flatulence. The gas they naturally hold within them makes them float near the surface of the water. When they want to dive deeper, they will pass gas, which helps them sink.

Paul Nicklen / National Geographic Creative

17. The Turritopsis Dohrnii jellyfish can make itself younger. Once the jellyfish reaches maturity, it has the ability, under certain environmental stresses or threats, to revert back to its immature state. 

Takashi Murai / The New York Times Syndicate / Redux

18. Koalas have fingerprints that are similar to humans’. They are so similar, in fact, that there have been reports of crime scene investigators collecting the animals’ fingerprints at the scene!

San Diego Zoo

19. Sloths spend the majority of their lives hanging upside down in the trees, and it can take up to 30 days for a sloth to digest a single leaf. Because of these two facts, sloths will only leave the trees to defecate about once a week.

BBC

40. Finally, Mantis shrimp are extremely strong for only being several inches long. They can throw a punch with the same speed as a rifle bullet and only needs three-thousandths of a second to hit its target. Don’t mess with the mantis shrimp.

Wired, Time

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