Here are some common myths about animal behaviour:
Myth: Mother birds will reject their babies if they have been touched by humans.
Truth: Most birds have a poorly developed sense of smell and will not notice a human smell. But if you pick up the chicks in the nest, she will be close by watching and she may get alarmed at the human disturbance and abandon her chicks.
Myth: Fish only grow to the size of their tank so you can put in as many as you like.
Truth: Fish will grow to the size that their genetics are programmed to let them. However, they will stunt and become unhealthy and suffer if the tank is too small.
Myth: Rattlesnakes rattle before they attack.
Truth: Rattlesnakes don’t give a warning before they bite. They rattle when they are frightened and need to let you know about their presence.
Myth: Ostriches bury their heads in the sand.
Truth: As oxygen-breathers, they would die if they did so. But they dig holes in the ground and put their eggs there and every few hours they turn the eggs so that they get the warmth of the sun evenly. To an observer at a distance this looks like burying their heads.
Myth: Snakes can only bite if they are coiled.
Truth: Coiling is not an aggressive posture but a defensive one that the snake adopts to prevent its long body from being hurt. Snakes can bite from any position, but coiling makes it more difficult for it.
Myth: Snakes are slimy.
Truth: Snakes are really dry to touch. Their skin is very sensitive and it is easy to hurt them when you touch them.
Myth: Snakes travel in pairs of male and female.
Truth: Snakes do not form pair bonds except briefly during breeding season and they certainly don’t travel together.
Myth: Bats are blind.
Truth: Bats have small eyes but these are completely functional. They use sonar to fly in the dark and have an excellent sense of hearing and smell.
Myth: Beavers eat fish.
Truth: Even though they make their homes in water, they eat plants.
Myth: Bulls react violently to the colour red.
Truth: Bulls are colour blind. They react to movements that they find threatening. Bullfighters who go in with swords, spears and knives to kill the bulls, use a red cloak to hide the bloodstains.
Myth: Camels store water in their humps.
Truth: The hump is made of fat. Camels have oval red blood cells which allow them to absorb and release water slowly.
Myth: Elephants have a thick skin.
Truth: Elephant skin is extremely sensitive and can feel a fly sitting on them. They get sunburnt very fast, which is why they bathe in mud to protect themselves, and mothers constantly make sure their children are in the shade.
Myth: Frogs or toads will give you warts if you touch them.
Truth: Warts are caused by a human virus.
Myth: Hens have no teeth.
Truth: They do.
Myth: Crocodiles weep when they are pretending to be sad.
Truth: Crocodiles can’t chew so they rip their food into chunks and swallow it whole. The glands that keep their eyes wet are situated near their throats, so while they are eating they actually have tears in their eyes.
Myth: Goldfish have a three-second memory.
Truth: Goldfish, and all other fish, are very bright. They recognize sounds, operate levers, recognize people, and being hurt, and remember food time.
Myth: Lice prefer clean or dirty hair.
Truth: Lice have no preference for either oily, dirty or clean hair. They just like hair.
Myth: Chameleons change their colours to fit into the environment.
Truth: They change their colours as per their moods.
Myth: Snakes react to music.
Truth: Snakes are deaf. They see the flute as a stick that will hurt them and sway to avoid it.
Myth: A blue whale can eat a car.
Truth: the largest thing it can swallow would be the size of a large orange.
Myth: Mice love cheese.
Truth: Mice like sweet food much more than cheese. This myth probably comes from cartoon movies. The same as rabbits and carrots, and elephants and peanuts.
Myth: Rhinos have horns on their noses.
Truth: No, it is matted hair.
Myth: Elephants stomp around making a lot of noise.
Truth: Elephants walk very quietly.
Myth: Fish are mute.
Truth: They make as much noise as animals on a farm. You just can’t hear them.
Myth: Sharks don’t get cancer.
Truth: Sharks do get cancer. This was a myth constructed by a company that sold shark cartilage as cancer prevention treatments.
Myth: Earthworms become two when they are cut in half.
Truth: They die.
Myth: Houseflies live for a day.
Truth: They live for 20-30 days
Myth: Flamingos rest on one leg to conserve heat, because the water is cold.
Truth: They rest on one leg because it is the most restful and does not involve any muscular work. Standing on one leg is exhausting for humans.
Myth: Sharks have endless rows of teeth.
Truth: Sharks have one row at a time and these are attached by soft tissue to the skin covering the jaw. These fall out easily if worn out and the one underneath comes up to replace it within 24 hours.
Myth: Bedbugs bore into mattresses and other things, burrow, dig and fly.
Truth: No, they can only walk.
Myth: All spiders have webs.
Truth: Hunting spiders, like wolf spiders, jumping spiders and trapdoor spiders, pursue their prey rather than build webs and wait for prey to come along. It is true, however, that all spiders produce silk, even if they don’t use it to build webs.
Myth: Cockroaches are virtually indestructible and can survive a nuclear war.
Truth: According to the magazine American Entomologist, American cockroaches die when exposed to 20,000 rads (unit of measure for radiation), compared to fruit flies, which can withstand 64,000 rads, and the lesser grain borer, which handles 180,000 rads. The notion of them being the ultimate survivors probably comes from the fact that they are flexible eaters and so will always find something organic to survive on.
Myth: Termites are just white ants.
Truth: Ants and termites are completely different insect groups. Even physically: Ants have compound eyes, termites have no eyes; ants have elbowed antennae, termites have just bead like segments; ants have waists, termites don’t; ants have abdomens that are pointed at the end, termites have blunt ended abdomens; ant workers are all females, termites are both male and female; ants are scavengers, with different species foraging for different foods. Some ants live within damp/decaying wood, but do not actually eat the wood. Termites are plant tissue specialists, feeding on wood and grasses, and some species can cause extensive damage to buildings and trees through their feeding and nesting habits; ants belong to the family Formicidae. Termites belong to several different families.
Myth: Spider bites can kill you.
Truth: Spiders are rarely venomous enough to do any actual harm to humans and the ones commonly found in your house are keeping the other insect populations down.
*About the author: Maneka Gandhi is a minister in the Union Cabinet led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. She is also a leader of animal welfare movement in India. You may contact her at email@example.com, www.peopleforanimalsindia.org