The Truth About Animals
We attended a fun lecture last night by Lucy Cooke, author of the book; The Truth About Animals. It was a humorous, but also a serious look into popular myths about animals from ancient times to present day. Lucy is an Oxford educated Zoologist and, as it turns out, quite funny.
She’s been involved in production of many TV shows around animals and the environment and is also said to be the next David Attenborough. She’s also the founder of the Sloth Appreciation Society. Really, that’s not a joke, head over to Slothville to check out the society’s collection of videos, talks, and to even print out your own certificate of being an inductee into the Society! 🙂 Lucy created the Society because sloths have gotten a bad rap through history and she wants to change that.
The Three-Toed Sloth
She explained a lot of amazing facts about sloths that we had no idea about, including that they subside on around 160 calories a day. Their have very slow metabolism and their diet of plants and leaves can be quite toxic, so their bodies must slowly get the nutrition out of this meager fuel supply. All the while, they are conserving as much energy as possible. They do this, primarily, by resting in the nook of tree branches or often just hanging upside down. Who knew that hanging is actually less work for them and they are specifically adapted for it. They lack extensor muscles like triceps that we use to be able to push and keep body parts rigid. This is why they are floppy, as it’s a lot of work to stay upright and fight gravity, it turns out.
Another fascinating topic was about pandas and the myths we’ve been bombarded with for decades around their inability to procreate and supposedly being bumbling and helpless creatures. Lucy explained that pandas are, in fact, one of the most
virile animals in the kingdom with sperm that is 100 times as potent as human sperm. The male panda can also procreate as many as 40 times in a single afternoon.
So, the pandas that are in the world’s zoos are an entirely different story than real wild pandas living in their natural habitat. It is true that the fertility window for a female panda is quite short. But, couple that with the fact about the male’s virility and you can quickly imagine how nature is just keeping a happy balance where it’s needed.
Any issues that Pandas have with their ability to procreate and live very successfully is due to the encroachment of human civilization and impact to their natural environment. After all, we know that Pandas have been around for over 16 million years, so they clearly don’t need our help to thrive.
Another fun topic was about hippos and especially about the story of how the notorious drug lord, Pablo Escobar, brought several hippos to Colombia to his hacienda. Hippos are native to sub-Saharan Africa and completely foreign to Colombia and this part of the world. However, they do enjoy the lush environment that Colombia provides with plenty of water to wallow in and grass to eat. Since the demise of Escobar and the subsequent looting of his hacienda, these hippos have multiplied and run amok as an invasive species in Colombia.
Historically, the ancient Romans thought of hippos as “river horses” that sweated blood. We know today that hippos are actually most closely associated to whales than any other animal, surprisingly. Also, that is not blood that they’re secreting, it’s actually a clear liquid that starts reflecting light and appearing scarlet later. What looks like blood is actually a sunblock that probably also has anti-bacterial and insect-repellent qualities. Pretty cool, huh?
Lucy also talked about her fascination with bestiaries and used them as examples of long-lived myths. Bestiaries are books from the ancient world that acted as collections of the knowledge available about animals in the world.
They are fascinating and humorous to check out, as they represent some pretty wild views of what was believed to exist in the world. Many myths got their start in these books and often didn’t get dispelled until surprisingly late in our modern history.
One example is that there was a belief that the sea held similar creatures underwater just as those the walked on land. So, a lion had an accompanying sea lion in the sea and a horse on land had a similar sea horse swimming in the ocean. Naturally, a bishop on land would have a matching sea bishop under the sea – uh, yeah, right.
It was a very interesting lecture by Lucy and we strongly recommend the The Truth About Animals book for an enlightening and myth-shattering view of the animal kingdom.