Facts Trounce Fallacy: Animal World Misconceptions Go Down the Drain


The world we live in is abundant of latent wonders that often leave us amazed. But a few of these so called ‘facts’ turn out to be just fallacies when looked deeper into them. From time immemorial, our minds have been engraved with a few misconceptions concerning the wonders of nature. These misconceptions have been propagated over the years and have now gained the status of ‘facts’. As a child, I have always been fascinated by the various plays of nature and its inhabitants. But unfortunately, a few of the information I possessed happen to be just myths.

Have you ever seen or heard of an ostrich burying its head in the sand to defend itself? An ostrich, the largest known bird possessing immense strength and agility, is believed to bury its head in the sand as a defence mechanism. It can run up to 40 mph and has a kick powerful enough to bend steel rods but it sure does not bury its head in the sand. An absurd fallacy indeed!

These creatures do try to hide when threatened and that includes running and kicking but not burying their heads in the sand. In order to ward off unseen threats they lie flat on the ground and their tiny heads appear to be buried when they lift themselves up.

animal-opossumWell, let us now move on to a class of cute yet ‘mighty-tailed’ animals – opossums. It is true that they have strong tails and can use them with great facility. But, they certainly do not hang from them. There is yet another popular belief that they sleep in this position. While a baby opossum may hang from its tail for a few seconds, adults are too heavy to do the same.

Have you ever tried touching a toad? The belief that frogs and toads can give you warts has just gone down the drain! Being lumpy skinned does not make them propagators of warts. In fact, it is human virus, not amphibian skin that causes warts. Some toads’ wart-like bumps have paratoid glands, which contain a poison that can cause irritation when touched. So it is wiser to stay away from them anyway!

Lemmings are the group of animals who have had to endure the strangest false facts right from the 19th century. It has been believed that lemmings engage in group suicidal behavior and jump off cliffs en masse during migration. Though they seem to migrate during population explosions and fall of cliffs occasionally on unfamiliar terrain, they never indulge in group suicide!

animal - lemmings

Moreover, they are surrounded by yet another strange myth. The 16th century geographer Zeigler of Strasbourg had proposed that lemmings fell out of the sky during storms and then suffered mass extinction when the spring grass began to sprout. Thus, lemmings can be considered hapless victims of the weirdest misconceptions!

Ever come across a severed earthworm? The general belief is that the severed parts can regenerate into two independent worms, which has now been proved false. When severed, the head end of the worm may live and regenerate its back end, while the old tail will die. However the planarian flatworm (a tiny freshwater worm from a different phylum than earthworms), is able to reconstruct its body from slivers as minute as 1/300th of the critter’s original body size. So fascinating a fact, right?


One of the most popular misconceptions ever centres round bullfighting. Belief is that the red cape instigates the bull to charge at the matador. But the fact that cattle are dichromatic (colour blind) contradicts this much celebrated myth! These animals don’t see red as a succinct colour. In reality, it is the movement of the cape and the overall threat of the situation they are responding to. These movements act as an impetus for them to charge.

I have often wondered why bats don’t bump into trees in the course of their flight despite being blind. The fact is that they are not blind. Bats may have small eyes but they certainly are not blind. As much as 70 per cent of the species augment their vision through echolocation, which makes their night hunt possible. Merlin Tuttle, founder and president of Bat Conservation International, has confirmed the truth that bats are not blind and they see extremely well.

Little brown bat

Recent research at Plymouth University paved the way to the contradiction of another popular belief that fish have no memory. It has been long believed that goldfish has a memory span of up to three months. It would be nice to think that every time a goldfish swims around the bowl it is a new adventure, but it is no longer true that a goldfish has a 3-second memory. Instead, it has a 3-month memory!

Though the etymology of the word ‘sloth’ reveals the true nature of the animals that go by that name, there is a general conception that these animals are lazy besides being slow.

They have been accused of committing one of the seven deadly sins – of being lazy.

animal-slothThe fact is that sloths have a metabolic rate that is only 45 per cent of what most animals of similar size have. Pertaining to this, they don’t have much command on their movements, which makes them very slow. Poor chaps!

There might still be such misconceptions that are waiting to be revealed sooner or later.

But to contrast this, there are millions of facts that still evidently point out that Mother Nature has not gone short of news to surprise us.

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