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  • Molly Weinfurter

10 Wild Animal Myths

Animals are depicted in stories, shows, and movies so often that we sometimes forget how they behave in real life. Unfortunately, many animal myths have been passed around as facts for generations, leaving most people to assume they’re true. If you’re an animal lover, it’s time to start fact-checking things you commonly hear about animals because the following are all misconceptions.


10. Whales Can Swallow Boats


whale jumping out of water

In stories like Pinocchio, whales swallow boats whole with no issues. While it seems logical that something as big as a whale could take down a boat, it’s not true. Most whales have an esophagus that's too small to swallow a human, so they certainly can’t swallow a boat. Even the blue whale, the biggest whale alive today, only has an esophagus of about 4 inches in diameter.


9. Touching a Baby Bird Will Make the Mother Abandon it


baby birds in nest

It’s rare that a mother bird would abandon her baby just because a human touched it. In fact, a bird wouldn’t be able to smell a human’s scent on another bird. Birds have a poor sense of smell and rely mostly on sight and sound.


However, the myth likely started as a way to get people to stop messing with wildlife. If you find a baby bird in an unsafe spot, you can pick them up and move them to safety, but don’t take baby birds out of their nests.


8. Elephants Drink Through Their Trunks


baby elephant swimming

Cartoons always show elephants sucking up liquids through their trunks, but in reality, elephant trunks don’t work like that. They can suck water into their trunk and spray it back out, but they can’t suck it up and swallow it that way. If an elephant wants to drink using their trunk, they would need to suck up some water and then spray it into their mouth.


7. Touching Toads Will Give You Warts


common toad outside

Warts are contagious, so many people believe that the “warts” on toads can give warts to humans. But the bumps on a toad’s skin aren’t warts at all. Toads have bumps that store toxins they use to defend themselves from predators. Those toxins aren’t as dangerous to humans as they are to animals, but they could irritate skin. However, you should avoid touching toads anyway since amphibians have sensitive skin that’s easily harmed by the oils on our hands.


6. Adult Opossums Hang from Their Tails


opossum in tree with babies

Despite popular belief, opossums don’t sleep upside-down while hanging from their tails. Opossums have prehensile tails, so they can use them to grab objects, but their tails aren't strong enough to support their body weight when they’re full-grown. However, baby opossums sometimes hang from their tails since they’re lighter.


5. Lobsters are Monogamous


wild lobster

Phoebe from Friends claimed that lobsters mate for life, but in reality, they rarely do. Their mating system is known as serial monogamy, where several females take turns mating with the same male. The females often get the male all to themselves for about a week or two, and then he will go on to mate with someone else. Males may mate with up to ten females per season. So, saying someone is “your lobster” isn’t actually a good thing.


4. Chameleons Change Colors to Match Their Surroundings


green chameleon in tree

Chameleons stand out from other lizards due to their ability to change colors. However, chameleons don’t use their colors to blend into their surroundings like they do in cartoons. Instead, their colors match how they’re feeling


They’re typically green when they’re resting, but bold emotions, like aggression and excitement, could result in bold colors. If they’re scared and want to avoid a threat, their colors could be darker. The environment could also affect a chameleon’s coloring.


3. Porcupines Can Shoot Their Quills


porcupine quills raised

Animals that get too close to porcupines quickly get covered in quills, which makes people falsely believe that porcupines can shoot their quills when threatened. In reality, porcupines don’t have that ability. However, their quills detach easily, which is how they get stuck to the muzzles of curious dogs. Porcupine quills usually lie flat on their body, but they may stick upright if the porcupine feels threatened.


2. Camels Store Water in Their Humps


one hump camel

Camels don’t store water in their humps, but instead, the humps store fat. When food is scarce, camels can use the fat as nourishment, which is why their humps sometimes look deflated and droopy. The fat in their humps can help them go up to 15 days without water, which is why some people believe the humps are filled with water.


1. Ostriches Don’t Bury Their Heads in the Sand


group of ostriches

The one ostrich behavior most people know is that they quickly shove their heads underground when threatened. But it’s actually a misconception. The myth likely began because ostriches have very small heads, so when they lower their necks, something could easily obstruct the view of their heads.


Instead of burying their heads, ostriches usually run away if they feel threatened since they can run over 40 miles per hour. If they sense danger but can’t run, they may fall to the ground and stay very still to blend into their surroundings.

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