Saturday Surprise — Animal Myths

Good morning and welcome to the weekend!  In all honesty, I almost took a pass on Saturday Surprise this week, for I really wasn’t in the mood for light-hearted or humorous.  But then, I came across this post I did just over four years ago back in 2018, and thought this a perfect time to redux it!  The topic, of course, is animals, but not just cute little animals.  Today we shall look into some of the ‘myths’ surrounding animals, like an elephant’s memory, or the sneakiness of weasels, and find out, as Paul Harvey used to say, “… the rest of the story”.

The story, from ThoughtCo, is titled …

12 Animal Stereotypes and the Truth Behind Them

… but in the interest of time and space, I am only sharing 7 of the 12.  However, you can see the whole lot here if you feel so inclined!

Are Owls Really Wise?OwlFolks think owls are wise for the same reason they think people who wear glasses are smart: unusually big eyes are taken as a sign of intelligence. And the eyes of owls aren’t only unusually big; they are undeniably huge, taking up so much room in these birds’ skulls that they can’t even turn in their sockets (an owl has to move its entire head, rather than its eyes, to look in different directions). The myth of the “wise owl” dates back to ancient Greece, where an owl was the mascot of Athena, the goddess of wisdom — but the truth is that owls aren’t any smarter than other birds, and are far surpassed in intelligence by comparatively small-eyed crows and ravens.

Do Elephants Really Have Good Memories?elephant“An elephant never forgets,” goes the old proverb — and in this case, there’s more than a bit of truth. Not only do elephants have comparatively bigger brains than other mammals, but they also have surprisingly advanced cognitive abilities: elephants can “remember” the faces of their fellow herd members, and even recognize individuals whom they’ve met only once, briefly, years before. The matriarchs of elephant herds have also been known to memorize the locations of watering holes, and there is anecdotal evidence of elephants “remembering” deceased companions by gently fondling their bones. (As to another stereotype about elephants, that they’re afraid of mice, that can be chalked up to the fact that elephants are easily spooked — it’s not the mouse, ​per se, but the sudden wriggling movement.)

Do Pigs Really Eat Like Pigs?pigWell, yes, tautologically speaking, pigs really eat like pigs — just as wolves really eat like wolves and lions really eat like lions. But will pigs actually gorge themselves to the point of throwing up? Not a chance: like most animals, a pig will only eat as much as it needs in order to survive, and if it does appear to overeat (from a human perspective) that’s only because it hasn’t eaten for a while or it senses that it won’t be eating again any time soon. Most likely, the saying “eats like a pig” derives from the unpleasant noise these animals make when chowing down their grub, as well as the fact that pigs are omnivorous, subsisting on green plants, grains, fruits, and pretty much any small animals they can unearth with their blunt snouts.

Are Weasels Really Sneaky?

There’s no disputing that their sleek, muscular bodies allow weasels to slip through small crevices, crawl unnoticed through underbrush, and worm their way into otherwise impenetrable places. On the other hand, Siamese cats are capable of the same behavior, and they don’t have the same reputation for “sneakiness” as their mustelid cousins. In fact, few modern animals have been slandered as relentlessly as weasels: you call someone a “weasel” when they’re being two-faced, untrustworthy, or backstabbing, and a person who uses “weasel words” is deliberately avoiding stating the unvarnished truth. Perhaps the reputation of these animals derives from their habit of raiding poultry farms, which (despite what your average farmer might say) is more a matter of survival than of moral character.

Do Crocodiles Really Shed Tears?crocodile.jpgIn case you’ve never heard the expression, a person is said to shed “crocodile tears” when he’s being insincere about the misfortune of someone else. The ultimate source of this phrase (at least in the English language) is a 14th-century description of crocodiles by Sir John Mandeville: “These serpents slay men, and they eat them weeping; and when they eat they move the over jaw, and not the nether jaw, and they have no tongue.” So do crocodiles really “weep” insincerely while they eat their prey? Surprisingly, the answer is yes: like other animals, crocodiles secrete tears to keep their eyes lubricated, and moisturization is especially important when these reptiles are on land. It’s also possible that the very act of eating stimulates a crocodile’s tear ducts, thanks to the unique arrangement of its jaws and skull.

Are Sloths Really Lazy?sloth.jpgYes, sloths are slow. Sloths are almost unbelievably slow (you can clock their top speeds in terms of fractions of a mile per hour). Sloths are so slow that microscopic algae grows in the coats of some species, making them virtually indistinguishable from plants. But are sloths really lazy? No: In order to be deemed “lazy,” you have to be capable of the alternative (being energetic), and in this regard sloths simply haven’t been smiled on by nature. The basic metabolism of sloths is set at a very low level, about half that of mammals of comparable sizes, and their internal body temperatures are lower as well (ranging between 87 and 93 degrees Fahrenheit). If you drove a speeding car straight at a sloth (don’t try this at home!) it wouldn’t be capable of getting out of the way in time — not because it’s lazy, but because that’s how it’s built.

Are Hyenas Really Evil?hyenaEver since they were cast as the heavies in the Disney movie “The Lion King,” hyenas have gotten a bad rap. It’s true that the grunts, giggles and “laughs” of the spotted hyena make this African scavenger seem vaguely sociopathic, and that, taken as a group, hyenas aren’t the most attractive animals on earth, with their long, toothy snouts and top-heavy, asymmetrical trunks. But just as hyenas don’t really have a sense of humor, they aren’t evil, either, at least in the human sense of the word; like every other denizen of the African Savannah, they are simply trying to survive. (By the way, hyenas aren’t only negatively portrayed in Hollywood; some Tanzanian tribes believe witches ride hyenas like broomsticks, and in parts of western Africa they’re believed to harbor the reincarnated souls of bad Muslims.)

And that is all I’ve got for today, folks!  I hope you all have a terrific weekend!happy dog Saturday

27 thoughts on “Saturday Surprise — Animal Myths

  1. Fun post! Always love hearing about animals. Just don’t tell Odessa that she is not the wisest creature, she may be a tad offended. LOL!
    Elephants are a favorite animal of mine!! They definitely do have a really good memory and really brilliant animals. You should read The Elephant Whisperer. I think you would really enjoy it. About an elephant reserve in Africa.

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  2. Jill, I like this post as you hit perceptions head on. There is a good historical novel about how a man aided the Brits in WWII in Burma using trained elephants. The elephants he used remembered how to climb mountain paths while the ones the Japanese used were not familiar with hilly terrain. This made a huge difference. Keith

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    • Thanks, Keith. And thanks for the recommendation of the book “The Elephant Whisperer”! Carolyn also mentioned it, so I will definitely check it out! Glad you enjoyed the post!


    • We have one — Tiger Lily — who is indeed the devil! She will shred the very hand that feeds her, even as that hand is setting the food in front of her. The other kitties run away if they see her coming, even those that are twice her size! However, she loves Natasha and thinks she owns her! I think Tiger wanted to be an only cat! Happy Saturday to you too, dear Emily!


  3. I reckon pigs are most like humans in their dietary habits, we are also omnivores, if you count the whole human race there isn’t much we have not eaten over the centuries. As for memory, I bet many creatures have better memories than us as they don’t have sat nav but find their way all over the world.

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    • So true!!! For years, I worked for Honda and several times some of the Japanese associates received ‘care packages’ from home, including some food items. Usually, when they opened their packages you could smell those food items all up and down the hallways! They would generously offer me a bit of this or that, usually something quite pungent that came out of the ocean, and I always declined … politely, of course. One day my friend Hiro Owada said to me, “Jill-san, you don’t have adventurous palate!”

      And yes, I think that as humans built things, and especially modern technology, natural instinct began to fade and these days we have far less instinct than most animals.


  4. Pingback: Saturday Surprise — Animal Myths | Ned Hamson's Second Line View of the News

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