Common Misconceptions About Animals (That Won’t Go Away)


Animals are an important – rather crucial – part of life on Earth. From keeping the food chain free of diseases and other problems to being inspirations for many of our technologies, human life is inherently connected to the animal kingdom.

Despite having lived around animals for so long, though, we still don’t know a lot about them. Many new species are discovered every year, and many animal functions remain mysteries we haven’t yet solved. Still, that doesn’t stop us from making opinions about them and repeating them so often that they eventually get passed down the generations as fact. Many of those beliefs are faulty because of ignorance at best, and intentionally inaccurate to serve a purpose at worst.

From the myth of the alpha male to pretty much everything about dolphins, here are the biggest misconceptions about animals we still believe.

9. You Can’t Teach An Old Dog New Tricks

This phrase is often used to assert that it’s difficult to teach new things to someone with a fixed set of experience, usually in a workplace. It’s the basis of many hiring procedures, as companies across the board prefer people with a relatively cleaner slate than someone who knows too much. For some reason, it’s inspired by dogs, as it’s implicitly assumed that older dogs are more difficult to train and that groups of people behave in the same way as groups of dogs.

If you look at the science, though, you’d find that the saying has no basis in fact at all. Many experiments – especially the one carried out by MythBusters – have proven that it’s not that difficult to teach older dogs new tricks, as long as you know how to communicate with dogs. While it’s true that it’s easier to train puppies and younger dogs, it’s the same with humans and every other animal. Younger individuals of every species learn things faster, as that’s what they’re evolutionarily supposed to do. That doesn’t mean that dogs lose their learning ability when they grow up. On the contrary, older dogs with prior experience in training pick things up much faster than even younger dogs.

8. Camels Store Water In Their Humps

We’re not sure about the origins of this one, though we don’t think it’s a very elaborate story. It’s likely that someone took a look at camels and all the desert around them, wondered how they survive without water, and just decided that it must be because they store water in their humps.

As you’d have guessed by now, that’s not how it works. Camel humps don’t store any water at all. They’re actually full of fat, and help the camel survive when there’s no food around, as is usually the case in the desert. The hump can even droop down if they go for a long time without eating, which is also a good way to tell if the camel is properly nourished.

Camels are naturally able to survive without water for a longer time than other animal their size, and their water intake is quite high, too.

7. The Natural Killer Instinct Of Big Cats

Most of us think of big cats as natural born killers, always out on the prowl for that next fix of meat whether they need it or not. Popular fiction has done a lot to enforce that notion, the Discovery Channel being one of the worst culprits.

While it’s true that a lot of our encounters with the big cats turn out to be unsavory, there’s a simple reason for that. We’re encroaching upon their land in most of those cases. The big cats that are constantly in conflict with humans have known to be aggressive and deadly, though that’s not their natural behavior.

With some rare exceptions, most big cats are quite shy and afraid of confrontation, and would absolutely not attack unless provoked – even if they’re hungry. They’re some of the most calculated predators on the planet, and know exactly when and whom to attack to have the maximum chance of surviving that encounter. If you ever face a big cat, there’s a very high probability that asserting your physical and mental edge over it would make it retreat.

That doesn’t mean that there haven’t been rare cases of big cats being exceptionally aggressive towards humans. Take the Bengal Tigers of the Sundarbans in Bangladesh and India as an example, as it’s one of the very few places in the world where such a high number of people live right alongside a thriving population of a big cat. Not just big, but the biggest cat there is. Bengal Tigers have been known to kill hundreds of people every year, and the true numbers aren’t even known. While that’s certainly how we’d expect tigers to act, it’s an exception, not the rule. Tigers are hardly aggressive and would not attack if they know you’ve spotted them, unless they’re under stress due to wounds or some other reason. They’re usually under the impression that surviving an encounter with a human is impossible and would not take that risk, even if you know in your heart that it really isn’t.

6. Cats Are Selfish And Uncaring

There are few creatures as unnecessarily vilified as a cat. If you ever bring them up in a group conversation, there’d always be someone ready to interject with surprisingly strong opinions on why cats they’re actually the worst animals on the planet. It may be true to an extent, too, as cats have been proven to be cunning and selfish in quite a few studies, though that’s only if we take dogs as a reference.

Of course, dogs are much more compassionate towards humans, having lived and worked with us for tens of thousands of years, though that doesn’t mean that anything less than that is selfish behavior. Research shows that cats are much more capable of affection and problem solving than dogs, it’s just that they do it on their own instead of getting a human involved. It’s because they’re independent creatures and have evolved to live solitary lives. It doesn’t mean that they’re selfish, just that they don’t need you to do everything for them, something we’ve come to expect from dogs.

Cats are also equipped with a ridiculously high number of gestures to show affection; all you need to do is learn how to read them. Many experts maintain that cats are as affectionate and friendly as their canine counterparts, it’s just a bit more difficult to understand them.

5. Alpha Males In Wolf Packs

The ‘alpha male’ theory is one of the cornerstones of most training routines for dogs, though that’s hardly the only place it shows up (just read a male fashion magazine; the alpha male look is apparently quite in right now). It works on the theoretical foundation that all wolf packs have someone called an ‘alpha male’ leading it; a designated leader who is the decision maker in the pack, and all the other wolves follow him because of how awesome he is. It’s something most – if not all – of us believe like common sense, even if it’s quite false.

You see, while it is true that one study found the existence of individuals possessing qualities of an alpha among wolves, it was later found that the study was only done on captive wolves. All other research on the topic since has decisively proven that wolf packs don’t have alphas, or even chosen leaders. Most packs are families, and decision-making is usually done in the best interest of all rather than the will of one main individual.

Moreover, it’s quite inaccurate to apply the alpha theory – or any other theory on wolves – to other animals, as the social structure of wolves is unique in the animal kingdom. 

4. Lice Is A Consequence Of Being Unhygienic

We all had that kid in school with a head always full of lice, and whom most kids stayed away from for understandable reasons. Lice infestation is popularly seen like a bacterial or viral infection, as those are usually caused by a lack of hygiene and improper diet, too. It’s not just an old wives’ tale either, we’re pretty sure many doctors who don’t directly work with lice and have never looked into how they work believe it, too, as it’s a widely held belief by almost everyone.

 In reality, it’s not just inaccurate, but also a bit unfair to the kids who do everything to stay hygienic and still suffer from it. According to science, it’s not their fault at all, as lice has nothing to do with cleanliness or what you eat. Lice can infect anyone just like a mosquito can bite anyone, with their only fault being sleeping in the wrong place at the wrong time.

3. Dolphins Are Docile And Chill

Even if we know that dolphins are one of the most intelligent creatures on the planet, they come across to be quite docile and calm. Even friendly, though we suspect that’s just because we think they’re always smiling due to their snouts. Still, dolphins are generally assumed to be friendly animals that never intentionally harm anyone.

If you put in just a bit of research, though, you’d be introduced to a side of dolphins that’s not just dark, but downright depraved even by general animal standards. Dolphins indulge in all kinds of problematic behavior most of us don’t know of, like trying to rape and drown people (they do this a LOT), killing the children of rival males and playing with their dead bodies like a toy, and just generally being a baddie of the underwater. If you’re comparing all this with dolphins you see at parks, don’t. As they’re so intelligent, it’s also quite easy to train them in captivity to not harm humans. If you see a dolphin in the wild, though, consider it much more dangerous than you usually would.

2. Chameleons Change Colors For Camouflage

The chameleon is probably one of the very few animals that have found a place in our idioms. We use them to refer to someone with a tendency to change their opinion or stand according to the circumstance, with the speed with which they do it being an important part of the message. Chameleons – as we understand them – are perfectly able to change their colors to match their surroundings, which may as well be the best camouflaging system in the natural world. It’s so good that it doesn’t exist.

As it happens, very few animals have the ability to change color to match their surroundings, and almost none of them are found above the ocean. Saying that chameleons use their color-changing abilities for camouflage isn’t just inaccurate, but also diminishes the sheer awesomeness of their abilities. Far from the relatively boring activity of camouflaging, chameleons use their colors to showcase their emotions, body temperature, state of mind and many other cues that we may not even understand yet.

While some research does suggest that they can match their colors to their surroundings if they want, that’s only a tiny part of why they do it. A more accurate statement would be – ‘Chameleons change colors for a lot of reasons, and one of them is blending into their environment’.

1. Anteaters Snort Ants

We’re not sure where this one comes from, though it’s definitely believed by a lot of people (like us before researching this). If we asked you about how anteaters eat, you’d probably say that they snort the ants, as it sounds obvious. It’s weird, because no science book has ever suggested that they do that, and no other references exist to the origins of this misconception. It’s likely that the human brain looks at something called the ‘anteater’ with a long trunk, and assumes that it must be using that to snort them.

If you look closely, though, that long thing isn’t a nose at all, but elongated jaws. It uses its long tongue to get the ants to its jaws, and then proceeds to quickly ingest them in a variety of ways (some even swallow stones to ensure proper grinding once they reach the stomach). The jaws are designed to make sure that it’s able to chew and swallow the ants before they could seriously bite it, which would turn out to be a disaster if it was just a long nose.

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1 Comment

  1. I still believe that misconceptions about Cats. We have a cat that’s a bit selfish and a jerk most of the time.