Nature Facts and Nature Fiction
1. Elephants use their trunks like a straw
The trunk is, without a doubt, the most distinguishing feature of this gargantuan animal. It is something you rarely see in the natural world, but it is likely that many of us have a skewed perception of what a trunk actually does. Despite its odd shape, it is still nothing more than a very long nose. It has two nostrils at the end of it and it sucks in air through its nasal passages that then heads into the lungs. It is very powerful and incredibly versatile: elephants can use their trunks in order to topple entire trees or to pick up a single piece of straw. What they cannot do, however, is use it to drink water. What they actually do is suck in water through the trunk, curl it into their mouths and drop the water inside, drinking it like any other animal.
2. Elephants love peanuts
You might have this impression from old cartoons. You might have even seen an irresponsible handler feed an elephant peanuts at a circus. However, you will never see elephants eat peanuts in the wild. It is simply not a part of their diet. Sometimes they get fed peanuts in captivity but not by people who know what they are doing. Most elephants will throw them away as they don’t seem to like them.
3. Hippo milk is pink
You’ll see this one on the internet quite often and people present you the pink liquid as proof. Right off the bat, let’s just say that hippo milk is the same color as the milk of every other mammal. The pink coloration comes from something else. Hippos can’t sweat and, instead, they produce an oily fluid which is a mix of hipposudoric and norhipposudoric acid. It’s commonly referred to as “blood sweat” for its red coloration but, in fact, it starts off colorless. Exposure to sunlight turns it orange, then red, then brown and the unlikely mixture of this liquid with normal white milk produces the pink fluid you’ve seen online.
4. Polar bears cover their noses while hunting
This one is funny and I really want it to be true, but it’s not. The idea is that the black nose of the polar bear is the only thing visible against the snowy white background so, when hunting, the bear covers it up to become invisible. Unfortunately, polar bears have been observed in the wild for hundreds and hundreds of hours and not once did any of them cover their nose.
5. Cows can’t walk down stairs
The idea here is that the joints in the legs of the cow makes it possible for it to climb up stairs, but impossible to go down. So if a cow ever gets into your home and climbs up to the first floor, you have a roommate for life (or a year’s supply of burgers, depending on how you look at it). However, just because cows don’t do it regularly since stairs aren’t found in nature doesn’t mean they are incapable of walking down stairs. And you don’t have to take anyone’s word for it, just see for yourself here and here.
6. Black panther is an animal species
This one can get a little confusing so let’s try and keep it simple. Panthera is a genus of felines which comprises most of the big cats: lion, tiger, jaguar, leopard and snow leopard. A black panther is a melanistic version of any of these animals. It is not a separate species. Melanism is an overdevelopment of dark-colored skin pigment. It’s like the opposite of albinism and it is common throughout the animal world. So a black panther can be one of multiple animals. When it’s found in South America, the panther is actually a melanistic jaguar. In Asia and Africa, a melanistic leopard (no black lions or tigers, unfortunately). It is possible for other feline species to posses the melanism gene, in which case they would also classify as panthers. There have been sightings in North America which led some to believe that cougars also posses this gene, but so far there are no official records of this.
7. Scorpions will sting themselves to death if they come into contact with alcohol
If you soak a scorpion in alcohol, it does go into a weird motion where it looks like it is stinging itself, but it is far more likely that it is having a convulsion. It might very well die afterwards, but not because it committed hara-kiri. And from a biological standpoint, I’m not even sure it is possible for scorpions to do that. First of all, their backs are armor-plated so they can’t pierce their own bodies. Even if they did, like most venomous animals, scorpions are immune to their own venom.
8. Camels store water in their humps
It’s not like in the cartoons where camels use their humps like canteens and store water in them. The hump is actually made out of fat which, indeed, is used as nourishment when food sources are scarce. It can actually reach up to 80 pounds (35 kg) in size on a healthy, adult male camel. As far as water goes, it is true that camels can go on long periods of time without a drink, but they are also capable of taking in vast amounts of water (up to 20 gallons at a time) when the opportunity does present itself.
9. Female Praying Mantises Eat the Males after Mating
This one is true, but only partially. The idea that mating is always a death sentence for the male mantis is not true. The females have been observed to eat the males after (or even during) mating…sometimes. There are several contributing factors here, most important being how hungry the female is. Furthermore, it is also likely that the females are being selective about their partners – they eat the smaller males and mate with the bigger ones.
10. Earwigs burrow into your head to lay eggs
If you’re one of the many people who find this idea nightmarish, let me put your fears at ease and tell you that it’s not going to happen…probably. Sure, it wouldn’t be out of the question to think that an earwig (or any other insect, for that matter) would happen to enter your ear by chance. However, don’t let the name fool you – earwigs are not actively seeking out human ears to nest in. It if does wander into an ear by mistake, it’s going to want to get out as much as you will. Furthermore, if you are taking the fear one step further and worry that it might reach your brain, this will definitely not happen. There is simply too much stuff in the way, mostly bone and tissue.