Four Common Animal Myths

If you think that a duck’s quack doesn’t echo, you’ve fallen for one of the more common animal myths (and you read too much email). Here are a few more.

Why are animal myths so pervasive? That’s hard to say, given that we should know better by now. After all, we’ve been sharing this world with our furry, feathery, scaly, and finny friends for some time now. Fortunately, science is lending a hand in dispelling these myths!

Some people might argue that science is actually just making life boring by taking the wonder out of the world. Au contraire; there’s more than enough wonder in true facts to make up for all the fantasy! So let’s dispense with a few myths about animals, shall we?

Myth #1: Chimps Are Gentle, Gorillas Are Aggressive

Quite the opposite. Gorillas tend to be pacifists, perfectly happy to sit around and eat all day. (Not such a bad idea). Chimpanzees, however, rape, murder, practice war — and even commit cannibalism. No one has ever recorded anything of the sort among gorillas.

Please note that it’s the common or robust chimp, known scientifically as Pan troglodytes, that seems to be doing its best to emulate us humans. The so-called pygmy chimps, or bonobos (Pan paniscus) tend to be much more peaceful and cooperative with each other. They literally prefer to make love, not war.

Myth #2: Elephants Are the Only Mammals That Can’t Jump

This is easy to disprove. While it’s true that elephants can’t jump (or at least they never do it when someone’s watching), neither can rhinos, hippos, or sloths. At least, as far as anyone knows. They may have high-jump competitions whenever humans aren’t around.

Oh, and that “elephants never forget” thing? Why wouldn’t they, and how would anyone know?

Myth #3: Dolphins Are As Smart As Humans

It would be nice to have another fully sentient species on the planet, but alas, dolphins don’t seem to be it. As far as scientists can tell after about a century of study, most dolphin species aren’t very smart, and even the brightest is only about as smart as a chimp (which is pretty good, admittedly).

They may even be a bit smarter than that, but not as smart as us. Of course, to paraphrase Douglas Adams, they’ve been content to frolic in the water and have a good time for millions of years, while we build cities and blow things up. So really, which species is the smart one?

Myth #4: Goldfish Can Only Remember Things for Three Seconds

Who comes up with this stuff? Who measured this? Anyway, it’s demonstrably wrong. While no goldfish will ever win a Nobel Prize, some have leaned to swim through mazes and can recognize individual people. Obviously, this three seconds thing is just another one of those defamatory animal myths.