Critter Culture
10 Common Animal Myths: Separating Fact from Fiction

10 Common Animal Myths: Separating Fact from Fiction

Critter Culture Staff



Porcupines don't shoot their quills like weapons. Cheese isn't a mouse's favorite food, and penguins aren't always, gasp, monogamous. Are you starting to question everything you know about life? There's more where these animal misconceptions come from, so we're about to do some serious myth-busting. In t-minus five minutes, you'll be able to tell your creature facts from fiction.



An Ostrich, (Struthio camelus), bowing its head down near its feet and looking up RyanFaas / Getty Images

Ostriches don't bury their heads in the sand. If you ever see an ostrich ducking, it could be digging holes for nests or trying to avoid an enemy by briefly laying low. There's no self-imposed oxygen deprivation or weird avian psychology at work, just good 'ole common sense and survival instincts. So, the next time someone says you're avoiding your problems like an ostrich, take it as a compliment rather than a criticism. Ostriches tackle their problems head-on, and they're practical as can be.



Camel by roadside in Central Australia Australian Lifestyle Images / Getty Images

Is a camel hump like a coconut—dry on the outside and thirst-quenching on the inside? Many people think these desert dwellers' humps are filled with water to help them get through periods of H20 scarcity. But just like Fergie and The Black Eyed Peas' humps, camel humps are full of fat. The fatty deposits are backup sources of energy and serve the dual purpose of temperature regulation. When there's little food to be had, humps noticeably sag. Camels can consume and store a lot of water, but this water resides in their blood.



goldfish in the aquarium MirekKijewski / Getty Images

Poor goldfish. They've been unfairly stereotyped as empty-headed amnesiacs for far too long. You've probably heard that goldfish have a three-second memory, but it's not as shockingly short-term as all that. A goldfish's memory can sometimes span years, and goldfish can be trained to perform incentive-related actions. They recall mealtimes and food placements and are smart cookies—it's fishbowl guilt that's convinced us otherwise.



owl twisting its neck

Can owls really turn their heads 360 degrees? The notion is straight out of a horror movie, and it isn't correct. Still, owls can twist their noggins up to an impressive 270 degrees without incurring any damage. These nocturnal hooters have fixed eye sockets with eyeballs that can't rotate, and they compensate with flexible heads.



Spectacled Flying-fox (Pteropus conspicilatus) photograped at Port Douglas, Far North Queensland, Australia. Connie Pinson / Getty Images

Contrary to popular belief, bats aren't blind. To confuse matters, Ben Affleck has played both Batman and Daredevil, one of the rare blind superheroes in the multiverse. Bat eyes are small, but they're functional, and a bat's vision is almost on par with the average human's sense of sight. Real bats often use echolocation, and that's pretty much a superpower over and above perfectly useful, albeit slightly colorblind, eyes.



two pandas cuddling zeleno / Getty Images

This one's a doozy. Pandas are the cute asexual poster children for the animal world. They adorn the WWF logo, and laugh-out-loud videos ensure they're YouTube darlings. But this is a one-dimensional representation, and pandas should strike some fear in your heart even if they don't seem as scary as a big grizzly or black bear. They have claws, jaws, and a capacity for violence that should put you off cuddling the real deal instead of your stuffed toy. And they have substantial libidos, too, in case you were wondering. Pandas can mate dozens of times a day in the wild.



close-up of a panther chameleon on a tree Freder / Getty Images

Chameleons can dramatically change hues, but there are misconceptions about why and how this occurs. They can't match every patterned background like magic, but they can adjust the brightness of their skin to blend in. Camouflage is a chameleon's only defense mechanism against predators. Sometimes, however, they want to be seen and reserve their most remarkable and colorful displays for mating, and territorial power plays. Temperature and mood are also factors that influence what chameleons look like shade-wise.



Howling timber wolf Jupiterimages / Getty Images

Werewolves might howl in communion with the full moon, but real wolves have better things to do, like communicate with faraway members of their pack. Like their feathered compatriots, owls, wolves are most active at night when the moon happens to cast her lunar glow over the wilderness. And, of course, a wolf can't be looking at its feet and howling if it wants to be heard seven miles away. Cue the lifted head for optimal howl amplification.



A family or herd of African Elephants march in a line toward a water hole t Amboseli National Park, Kenya. Vicki Jauron, Babylon and Beyond Photography / Getty Images

There's a widely held belief that elephants don't forget, and there's so much evidence that elephants do have excellent short and long-term memories. They can recall faces and routes and family member movements. What doesn't hold up so well is the elephant graveyard concept. Injured or old elephants don't leave the herd to go and die in a morbid location full of bones. They settle where there are resources, and if the Grim Reaper pays a visit, family members will cover their dead relative with foliage. Because migration paths stay the same for decades, multiple deaths can occur in an area.


Spiders and bees

spider in bed

At some point, the idea that we eat eight spiders in our sleep every year entered our collective consciousness. Let's have a round of applause for the trickster that managed to embed this total fallacy in our minds. That's the good news.

The bad news is that only European honey bees have a single fatal sting—wood bees and bumblebees can come back for more jabs.



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