5 Animal Myths Everyone Believes (That Are Total B.S.)
Somewhere, a little boy is hearing the word "ostrich" and picturing a giant bird burying its head in the sand because his dumbass dad once told him they do that (just as his dumbass dad, in turn, told him). It's the Circle Of Dumbasses. Well, we've sort of made it our mission here to break that circle. Toward that end ...
Wolf Packs Are Not Led By An "Alpha Wolf"
We know the hierarchy of wolf packs: They consist of the "alpha" and "beta," or the dominant wolf and the submissive wolf. The alpha wolf fights his way to the top, ferociously dominates the weaker members of the pack, gets first dibs at every meal, and dubs himself the Neeson of the pack. This theory was made popular back in the '60s by scientist L. David Mech. After spending years carefully studying how wolves interacted with each other, Mech proposed the alpha/beta distinction based on observed dominance displays and inadvertently spawned decades of douchebag philosophy.
The natural order of things dictates that, at any time, only one pimp hand can be strong.
But, Science Says:
Here's the problem: The pack Mech studied was captive, and the wolves were complete strangers. That's like basing your entire understanding of human social dynamics on an episode of Big Brother.
"No alphas, no betas, and only valuable to society when eaten by wolves."
When forced to live with complete strangers, wolves will unsurprisingly form hierarchies to establish some sort of pecking order -- but, that's simply not how it works in the wild. Mech, realizing his mistake, has spent years trying to quash the myth and begging the publisher to stop reprinting his book that originally made it famous. More recent research reveals that wild wolf packs are basic family units, and the "alpha" is just a wolf who found a lonely lady wolf to bone. Then, they had some pups that will, one day, go off to do the same.
"I am an assmaster, like my father before me."
And those brutal dominance displays? Well, that really only happens around feeding time. Turns out, it's just the parents keeping their older pups from, er, wolfing down all the food before the younger siblings have gotten their share. So, it's not evidence of a brutal society run by violence -- it's just Dad making sure everybody gets a slice of pizza before the dickhead big brother goes in for seconds.
Komodo Dragons Do Not Disable Their Prey With Killer Bacteria In Their Slobber
Komodo dragons are the largest lizards on the planet. They're surprisingly fast when they want to be, have crazy sharp teeth, and, like the alien from Alien, they can hawk a loogie that will straight-up murder a motherfucker. That's thanks to their habit of using putrefying meat like toothpaste, transforming their drooling maws into festering pits of deadly bacteria. When they hunt, they simply bite once, let the victim run away, and then patiently wait until the inevitable infection slowly and agonizingly kills the poor bastard. Then, they feast on it at leisure and start the whole "putrefying meat" cycle all over again.
It's like a marinade created by Satan's personal chef.
But, Science Says:
Enter Dr. Bryan Fry, a biochemist and molecular biologist who cares more about the oral hygiene of giant death-lizards than is generally considered healthy this side of a supervillain.
He's the Targaryen whose invitation to the family reunion keeps getting "lost in the mail."
Fry's studies have shown that Komodo dragons really don't have festering rot-chops at all. To the contrary, he's observed them cleaning their mouths after meals to a near obsessive-compulsive degree -- an odd habit for a creature that relies on its squalid bite to hunt. Lab tests further revealed that the average dragon has 128 bacterial species in its kisser, and not one of them is capable of causing an infection that could kill so quickly. We humans, by comparison, have at least that many (probably more). And, with the possible exception of your college roommate who lives on Hot Pockets and Mountain Dew, we probably aren't going to be bringing down a wildebeest with the nastiness of our saliva anytime soon.
His kissing booth would be worth billions.
So, what's the origin of the rotten bite myth? Well, it turns out we've had it precisely ass-backward from the get-go. It's not the predator that's a filthy, gaping bag of bacteria -- it's the prey. Specifically, the Komodo dragon's favorite snack: the water buffalo. The water buffalo is not native to the Komodo dragon's Indonesian home. Meddling humans took them from their mainland Asian habitat -- where they were accustomed to huge, idyllic fresh marshes that they could shit all over to their hearts' content -- to some small islands with a few tiny ponds here and there. And you probably don't need a doctorate in molecular biology to figure out that cannonballing into a combination sink/bathtub/toilet while having a gaping wound might present significant risk of infection.
The water was blue two minutes ago.
As a matter of fact, Dr. Fry goes so far as to posit that, if any wild Komodo dragon specimens tested over the years have exhibited higher than normal levels of oral bacteria, it was specifically due to the fact that they had been munching on a filthy-ass water buffalo. So, we all owe a collective apology to the noble Komodo dragon and a collective "that's nasty" to the water buffalo.
Baby Venomous Snakes Are Not More Dangerous Than Adult Ones
Baby snakes are far more venomous than their adult counterparts. It's simply a matter of proportions: A baby snake has a tiny mouth, but its venom is just as deadly as an adult's, making its bite pack way more punch per square inch. Also, stupid baby snakes haven't yet learned how to prioritize the use of their venom -- so, while an adult will conserve it for hunting and dole out harmless warning bites when threatened, a baby will go straight-up Rambo on your ass, mercilessly emptying its tiny venom clips into your big toe like a John Woo character.
"Fuck that, guy. I'll never forgive him for what he did to my uncle."
But, Science Says:
Researchers at Loma Linda University School of Medicine in California tested rattlesnakes' ability to meter their venom dosage and found that, yes, baby snakes seem to be pretty dumb about venom control. Even so, larger snakes still deliver more venom when biting. That's because, just like the rest of it, a snake's venom glands grow as it ages, resulting in an older snake having more available venom than a young one.
They're less John Woo and more Predator ... with death juice.
To put it in numbers, baby rattlesnakes are capable of delivering up to 70 milligrams of venom, whereas an adult can deliver up to 666 milligrams -- a good six times the lethal dose and proof that Mother Nature is metal as hell.
In New York City, There Is Not One Rat For Every Human
A commonly cited statistic is that there's at least one rat for every human in the Big Apple, and, if you've ever spent more than five minutes waiting for the L train, you probably believe it. Think about that number for a second. One rat for every human -- that's more than 8 million disease-carrying vermin scuttling around, obscenely caressing every single surface of your favorite restaurants and public transportation hubs with their repugnant little paws. And then, there's all the rats.
But, Science Says:
The infamous "one rat for every human" statistic was first put forth by W.R. Boelter in his book The Rat Problem, which was the first real attempt to estimate the number of rats in ... um, England. In 1909. Yep, the statistic New Yorkers are still quoting today was published over a century ago and had absolutely nothing to do with rat populations in the five boroughs. Not only that, but Boelter also focused on rats in the countryside -- making the whole thing inaccurate even for British cities of antiquity, let alone modern-day NYC. Somehow, the bullshit statistic found its way over the pond and began spreading, particularly in major urban centers. Hey, just like the rats!
They could've claimed the rats can cook gourmet food and been more accurate.
The sad truth is that we seem to have an innate human desire to be disgusted, and "one rat for every human" is simply too gross to resist repeating ad infinitum. Reality is far less dramatic, however: Jonathan Auerbach, a PhD student and statistics wizard, recently conducted a study and found that New Yorkers outnumber rats by at least four to one. According to Auerbach, less than 5 percent of New York's lots are rat-infested -- about 2 million in the city, tops -- and that's a generous overestimation.
So, if you see shit on the subway, it probably wasn't Rizzo The Rat's fault. More likely, Elmo's.
And Auerbach's not the only one trying to debunk the rat myth. Robert Sullivan, a rat expert and author of the concisely titled Rats: Observations On The History And Habitat Of The City's Most Unwanted Inhabitants, says that Auerbach's conclusion really isn't news and that "anybody who knows anything about rats knows there aren't 8 million rats." Auerbach's next study will presumably seek to answer why Robert Sullivan is such a jerk about it.
Sharks Do Get Cancer
Sharks are not only some of the most fearsome, human-eating monsters on the planet, they're also completely immune to the most fearsome, human-eating disease on the planet: cancer. How does that even happen? Did cancer see Jaws as a kid or something?
It's why smoking underwater is so much better for your lungs.
Well, apparently, it's because shark skeletons are composed of cartilage, which restricts the growth of cancerous tumors. But, on the bright side, some medical genius put two and two together and figured out that eating shark cartilage could similarly boost a human's immune system, effectively making him or her impervious to cancer. That's part of the reason why we're harvesting sharks to the tune of 100 million per year. We're wiping vast swaths of man-eaters off the planet and curing cancer, all at the same time. Win-win!
But, Science Says:
First of all, the belief that eating an animal will allow you to gain its biological characteristics is crazy. You don't eat a fistful of spiders and become Spider-Man -- you just become that weirdo nobody sits next to on the bus. But, despite studies showing that dietary shark supplements have absolutely no effect on malignant tumors and, in fact, lead people away from real, effective treatments that could actually save their lives, the homeopathic remedy community is difficult to sway. Millions worldwide still insist that consuming shark bits will cure you of cancer, in much the same way monks should eat panda bears to cure them of sexual desire.
Sharks don't get AIDS ... doesn't mean you should fuck these.
Then, there's the fact that sharks absolutely do get cancer. Being all cartilaginous might make them less likely to get it (as does their inability to purchase Marlboros or climb into a tanning bed), but "less risk" isn't synonymous with "immune." Don't believe us? Here's a depressing picture of a Great White sporting a massive tumor on its face:
Lower Jaws: The Removal.
This isn't an isolated case, either -- to date, tumors have been observed in 23 species. And rates of shark cancer are steadily increasing, most likely due to increased sea pollution. So, we're poisoning their home, giving them cancer, and then harvesting them to erroneously fight our own cancer. That's it: We're pitching a new film from the shark's point-of-view. Thumbs -- just when you thought it was safe to live in the water ...
We're just not great at this whole "facts" thing. We can't even get shit right about ourselves. To see what we mean, check out The 5 Most Statistically Full of Shit National Stereotypes. Or see what else we get wrong about our furry and not-furry friends in The 6 Most Frequently Quoted Bullshit Animal Facts.
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