Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Animal myths #3

It's been a while since I've written about some animal myths, so I thought it was time for another installment...
  • Myth #6: According to physics, bumblebees shouldn't be able to fly.
I know people love this one. It's such a great metaphor- when someone tells you that you can't do something, just think of lowly bumblebee, who flies even when science says it shouldn't be able to.

The origin of this myth is thought to be a dinner party, where someone scribbled down some calculations on a napkin and said that according to equations, bees can't fly. That story in itself might be a myth, but somehow the idea that bees shouldn't be able to fly has become common knowledge. It's true that bees use some pretty unique mechanisms to achieve flight, which is partly why it's taken so long to figure out how they accomplish it. There are quite a few studies explaining how it works... Cal Tec, Tsinghua University, and Cornell all have good descriptions.
  • Myth #7: The skulls of [insert skinny-headed breed here] are too narrow for their brains, so when they reach 4 or 5 years old, they go crazy and get so aggressive they kill their owners.
I've usually heard this one about Dobermans, although Chris said he heard it about Dalmatians too. On a practical level, I can't imagine anyone being willing to own a dog that they know will turn on them at four years old. Dobies are still used for police and war work, and it wouldn't make any sense to put two years (or more!) of training into a dog that would snap and kill its handler.

On a physiological level, let's consider what happens when your brain swells (i.e. you have severe head trauma). Pressure in the brain means pressure on neurons, which can cause them to not function and eventually die. Anything that increases intracranial pressure is bad news, and depending on the severity, you could see things like general mental dullness, seizures, ataxia (inability to walk), or other neurological signs like twitching eyes or loss of balance. If the pressure isn't relieved, it eventually leads to permanent brain damage and death. The brain controls a lot of things besides behavior, and an increased tendency towards violence would probably not be the first thing you'd see.

Lastly, if narrow skulls really caused aggressive behavior, how come you never hear this myth applied to collies?

1 comment:

Lynx said...

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