For those of us here at Cracked, there are basically three types of animals: ones we'd like to keep as pets, ones that taste delicious and ones we only know a couple of things about. Sometimes these categories overlap, but that's another story.
Anyhow, the category we're concerning ourselves with in this article is the last one: animals that we know one, maybe two things about. Now, these are by no means obscure facts; you probably learned them when you were 10, and, as should surprise no one who has read the title, these "facts" are completely, totally wrong.
Why You Know This "Fact":
Calling people a bunch of lemming is like calling them "sheeple." The small, furry lemmings are known for being mindless followers who will even commit mass suicide by jumping off cliffs. They've shown up in cartoons, commercials and video games doing exactly that.
Too bad none of it is true.
This rumor was probably started in the early 19th Century. Scientists would see sudden bursts of the lemming population that would just as suddenly shrink, and they couldn't figure out why. In 1908 a man named Arthur Mee decided that "mass suicide" seemed as good an answer as any and published it in his The Children's Encyclopedia.
Arthur Mee refused to shelter children from the harsh realities of the shit he totally made up.
Mee concludes that the self-inflicted almost total annihilation of lemmings is "sad and terrible, but if the dismal exodus did not occur lemmings would long ago have eaten Europe bare." This means that Mee believes that lemmings kill themselves out of an instinctual drive to preserve Europe at the expense of killing themselves, and everyone reading along at home said, "Yeah, that sounds right."
Still, Mee's pointless nerd book and all the myths therein would have faded into obscurity, if it wasn't for Walt Disney.
In 1958, Disney filmed the groundbreaking nature documentary White Wilderness, where they managed to capture lemming suicide on film for the first time. We spend a few hours watching an entire lemming migration and cap the whole film off with shots of lemmings diving off a cliff to their deaths.
And, for the few kids out there who aren't into encyclopedias or nature documentaries wherein cute rodents kill themselves, game designer Psygnosis spread the myth even further, with Lemmings, an incredibly addictive video game where the player had to save the adorably stupid green-haired protagonists from certain death. Thankfully, the game was recently, ported to the PS3 keeping the lie alive for another generation at the very least.
Why It's Bullshit:
Lemmings are good at two things: eating and fucking. A female lemming is capable of birthing 80 baby lemmings a year, a staggering number that most of them reach because when you're a lemming you've got shit else to do.
The end result of a bunch of hungry lemmings with their sex organs set to "Super Fuck" is what we call a "population problem." When this happens, the lemmings empty their surroundings of all possible food and have to go search for more, out in the world. Now you've gone from too many lemmings in a lemming habitat to too many starving lemmings frantically running around in unfamiliar territory.
As you would expect, panic sets in and they make rash decisions. Sometimes this means absentmindedly falling off a cliff or being accidentally bumped into a river by one of the other hundreds of lemmings. It's not mass suicide. Think about it. If that was the case, there wouldn't be any more lemmings. A creature that's instinctively driven to kill itself isn't designed for longevity; it's as simple as that.
As for the "groundbreaking nature documentary" White Wilderness, it turns out that it's total bullshit. The creators of the film simply grabbed up about a dozen lemmings and sent them to Canada. The film assured us that we were seeing an entire lemming migration when, in reality, they were filming the same handful of lemmings over and over again.
So how do you make 12 of the same lemmings running around into family friendly entertainment? Well, if you're Disney, you toss the lemmings off a cliff and tell your audience it was a suicide. That. Happened. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science was so outraged that they gave White Wilderness an Oscar for Best Documentary.
Why You Know This "Fact":
The famous Roman thinker, Pliny the Elder, came up with this bit of nonsense in the year 79 AD for Natural History, the epic encyclopedia he created as a home for all of the world's knowledge (including the not real parts). He wrote that the ostriches would bury their heads in the sand on the belief that, when the head is hidden, "the whole of their body is concealed."
Here's an artist's rendering of Pliny making shit up
The reason that this myth has stuck around for as long as it has is that it's an incredibly versatile political metaphor. Do you want to imply that President Obama is being naive about the war in Iraq? Say he's sticking his head in the sand. Do you want to revitalize an unpopular political party? Say you're taking your head out of the sand. Do you want to assert that Hillary Clinton is blindly appeasing a foreign country, while expressing that opinion as confusingly as you can? Say she's sticking the USA's head in Pakistani soil. Whenever you want to say that any person, party or organization is being willfully ignorant about a single issue, draw a picture of an ostrich with its head in the sand and scribble the party name on the ostrich's torso. It has never been easier to be a political cartoonist.
Why It's Bullshit:
Just like the lemming, the fact that the ostrich isn't extinct from sheer stupidity should have been your first clue that this wasn't even close to being true. Any animal that thinks hiding its head in the sand makes it invisible to predators is an animal too dumb to survive.
In reality, they'll get all up in your grill.
The truth is that while ostriches can't fly, they're the fastest animal in the world on two legs, capable of reaching speeds of 45 miles-per-hour (twice the top speed of a human), and maintaining that speed for up to a half-hour. So if the ostrich sees a leopard off in the distance, it doesn't bother hiding, it just runs, much in the same way that you'd run away from a wheelchair-bound serial killer instead of, say, putting your hands over your eyes in an attempt to disappear.
There are two possible reasons why people might believe this myth and, unfortunately, both of them are as stupid as the ostrich is supposed to be. First, the ostrich occasionally pecks at the ground for stones, which it uses to digest its food.
Try it some time.
(Note from Cracked.com's legal department: This site will not be held responsible if you do, in fact, "try it some time." Retard.)
Second, the ostrich sleeps laying down. In either case, the argument is: "Hey, from far away, it looks like the ostrich has its head buried in the sand. I'm content to believe this is true and further conclude that ostriches think they're invisible, this matter requires no further investigation." This is why, today, we base our animal facts on actual experiments and field research, and not the simple What Things Look Like To Pliny the Elder method of animal classification.
Why You Know This "Fact":
It's all because of an English painter named Edwin Landseer, in 1820.
Edwin also may have been Wolverine .
Landseer was a bit of a child prodigy, beloved by both Queen Victoria and the masses for his landscapes and animal portraits. When, at age 17, he painted "Alpine Mastiffs Reanimating a Distressed Traveler," (Edwin was not the kind of artist who forced you to interpret his meaning), he decided to make it approximately 50 times more awesome by adding a barrel of brandy around the necks of the Alpines (St. Bernards). And the people ate it up.
One dog is going for the jugular, while the other isn't sure what he's stepping on. Some rescue.
Now, we know that, as members of the Cracked audience, you're incredibly well-versed and always up-to-speed on popular art throughout the ages, but how did your average John Q. Public hear about this myth? Probably the way they learn about everything else, by which we mean old Looney Tunes cartoons (see 2:30). Yep, once Looney Tunes decided to depict the St. Bernard-as-bartender (inspired by Landseer's painting), the myth was cemented in pop culture history.
What's interesting about this myth is that it wasn't as if Landseer once knew a St. Bernard that carried brandy, and it's not like the dogs regularly carried supplies and Landseer wrongly assumed it was brandy; there was no genuine excuse for Landseer to depict the dogs this way apart from "I felt like it." He was just a 17-year-old kid who thought dogs would be cooler if they were also bars (he's right), and the world just decided to take his word as gospel.
Why It's Bullshit:
Sadly, the world isn't that cool; there are three simple reasons why letting a St. Bernard carry brandy around would be absolutely irresponsible (that's "people die" irresponsible, not "throwing a party while your parents are gone" irresponsible). First, burdening a rescue animal with a heavy keg would obviously slow it down. Second, since Brandy is 36-60 percent alcohol, sub-zero (oF) temperatures could make it slushy or freeze it solid. If you're thinking that would be the best slushy ever, remember that when you're freezing to death, the last thing you want is a snow cone, even if it is beer-flavored.
There are worse ways to die, though.
Finally, and most importantly, alcohol actually causes you to lose heat faster, which means giving brandy to someone suffering from hypothermia would be about as effective as shoving ice cubes up their asshole.