Hoax Museum Blog: Animals

Posted: Sat Jul 12, 2014.   Comments (0)

Gigantic Tortoise Found on Mt. Etna —

A video circulating on Italian news sites shows what appears to be a gigantic tortoise being transported on a truck. An accompanying story explains that this tortoise "of colossal dimensions" was found recently at the base of Mt. Etna. A helicopter full of Japanese tourists spotted the creature. At first they thought it was a large, dark rock, until they noticed it was moving. The helicopter pilot alerted the earthquake authorities, who arrived and discovered that it was a gigantic tortoise. People were able to film the tortoise as it was loaded onto a truck and taken away to be studied.

None of this story is true. It comes from an Italian fake news site, Corriere del Mattino. A clue that the story is fake (in addition to the absurdity of the gigantic tortoise) is that it's authored by "Carlo Darvini" (i.e. Charles Darwin).

However, Corriere del Mattino didn't create the video, which actually shows the transportation of a piece of art by Kurdish sculptor Zirak Mira. (Although a soundtrack of Italian voices was added for effect.) The full video of the tortoise sculpture's transportation is on YouTube. [info from vitadamamma.com]

Zirak Mira's tortoise sculpture

This hoax recalls that image of a giant tortoise on a truck that was circulating last year. In that case, the image was actually a still from the 2006 Japanese monster movie Gamera the Brave.

Posted: Wed May 14, 2014.   Comments (0)

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Operation Cat Nip Confusion — In August 2011, hundreds of cats were rescued during a hoarding case, and then a team of veterinary students volunteered their time to spay and neuter the cats in order to prepare them for adoption.

A photo of this mass spaying/neutering event (named Operation Cat Nip) ran in the Gainesville Sun.

But about a year later that same photo began appearing on Twitter, stripped of any explanatory context, and accompanied by the caption: "Retweet if you say NO to animal testing."

The photo also had a watermark added, "Cause Animale Nord,"which is the name of a French animal welfare society.

Thousands of people obediently retweeted the photo, many of them adding messages expressing their disgust and disapproval, unaware that the photo had nothing to do with animal testing.

Like many viral photo fakes, this one has gone through cycles of being debunked, disappearing for a while, and then suddenly resurging in popularity. Right now, it's again in a popular phase.
Posted: Fri Feb 28, 2014.   Comments (4)

The Wolf of Sochi — Another Jimmy Kimmel hoax. His crew built a replica of an Olympic Village dorm in their LA studio, then shot footage of a wolf wandering through its hallway. They had US luger Kate Hansen post the footage on YouTube, and to her Twitter account, claiming it was a wolf outside her room. A play on all the reports of stray dogs loose in Sochi. And, of course, the footage quickly went viral.

The wolf was actually a North American timber wolf that Kimmel's crew hired (a rescue wolf named Rugby). Kimmel admitted to the hoax on Twitter, and then gave a full explanation on his Thursday night show.

Posted: Fri Feb 21, 2014.   Comments (1)

Alligators Clean Pipes — This brief article ran in the Feb 1938 issue of Popular Science magazine.

Plumbers Use Alligators To Open Clogged Pipes
Alligators kept as specimens at the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries aquarium in Washington, D.C., are being tried out as plumber's assistants to open up clogged pipes. Placed in a length of pipe that is stopped up with silt and sediment, the reptile digs his way through, opening up a small hole which water will widen by its pressure as it sweeps through.

A clipping of the article was posted on the Modern Mechanix blog in April 2007, with the comment, "I guess we know now where that urban legend about alligators in the sewer started." The clipping has subsequently circulated on various blogs.

By chance, I know the back story to this news report. The guy on the left was Fred Orsinger, Director of the (now defunct) National Aquarium in DC during the 1930s and 40s. He had a reputation for being the P.T. Barnum of the fish world and was always pulling bizarre, tongue-in-cheek stunts to get the National Aquarium in the news.

For instance, in 1940 he founded something he called the Association for the Prevention of April Fool Jokes (it was through this that I first came across references to him). The association didn't have anything to do with fish, but it got his name (and the aquarium) in the news.

Fred Orsinger

Some of his other schemes involved promoting the A.F.E.O.I.A.M.Y.W.T. (Association for Eating Oysters in Any Month You Want To), which tried to convince people that it was okay to eat oysters in months without the letter 'R'.

He campaigned to dispel the notion that all Fish Tales (i.e. stories that fishermen tell) are tall tales. He claimed to have found that, on average, only 2 out of 9 fish tales are untrue.

He promoted the Association for the Abolition of Round Fish Bowls, arguing that "round bowls distort a small, harmless fish into a ferocious denizen of the deep, producing a bad effect on children."

In 1937 he claimed he was going to stage a "fish walkathon" featuring the Anabas Testudineus (the "walking or climbing perch").

In 1945 he claimed to have spotted a 20-foot sea monster in the Potomac River. He called it Percival.

One time he made a panther-skin coat for a Maine trout and claimed it was an actual fur-bearing trout. Supposedly this fooled some Russian ichthyologists before "someone dragged them aside and whispered, 'it's a joke, comrade.'"

As for the pipe-cleaning alligators, an Associated Press article from October 1937 (can't find a link to an online copy) explains the genesis of the idea:
Orsinger said he conceived the idea when a drain pipe became clogged at a friend's home and it appeared it would be necessary to rip up the kitchen floor.
An alligator was placed in one end of the drain. It worked its way through the pipe and emerged at the other end.
"Alligators, you know, don't do backwards," Orsinger explained.
Elated, he has developed a sort of alligator-pipe size arrangement.
A 14-inch alligator, for instance, should do the job in a 6-inch pipe.

Apparently it's a myth that alligators can't walk backwards. Although it's surprisingly hard to find authoritative information on this subject. A search of science journal articles turned up nothing. But pawnation.com offers this info:
The most common form of movement for alligators on land is called the “belly crawl,” and while an alligator cannot walk backwards on its belly, there is another form of movement that allows backwards motion: the “high walk.” When an alligator is high walking, its entire body and the majority of its tail is off the ground. This form of locomotion is used primarily when an alligator is getting out of water or moving over an obstruction, but it also allows alligators to move backwards.

So if this is true, Orsinger's scheme to use alligators to clean pipes might actually work, because the gators wouldn't be able to do the 'high walk' in a clogged pipe, and thus would have to move forward.
Posted: Fri Feb 07, 2014.   Comments (1)

The truth about chainsaw-mimicking lyrebirds — The Australian lyrebird has amazing powers of imitation. In his Life of Birds series, David Attenborough demonstrated that these birds can even imitate man-made sounds such as chainsaws, car alarms, and the click of a camera shutter.

The clip leads viewers to believe that lyrebirds in the wild have begun to imitate man-made sounds. But this turns out not to be true. Attenborough didn't explain that the lyrebirds he showed were not typical examples of the species. Hollis Taylor, writing for theconversation.com, explains:
Attenborough peers at the bird (and the camera) from behind a tree, whispering to us about the bird mimicking "sounds that he hears from the forest". We see compelling footage of a bird imitating a camera's motor drive, a car alarm, and a chainsaw.

This Attenborough moment is highly popular — but hold on! He fails to mention that two of his three lyrebirds were captives, one from Healesville Wildlife Sanctuary and the other from Adelaide Zoo. This latter individual, Chook, was famed for his hammers, drills, and saws, sounds he reputedly acquired when the Zoo's panda enclosure was built. Hand-raised from a chick, he was also known to do a car alarm, as well as a human voice intoning "hello, Chook!" He died in 2011, aged 32.

She goes on to say:
Do wild lyrebirds mimic machinery and the like? While I can imagine that in rare circumstances their vocalisations could reflect the human impact on their environment (and there are such anecdotes), there is no known recording of a lyrebird in the wild mimicking man-made mechanical sounds. Nevertheless, belief in such a phenomenon is now so well established on the internet that it even crops up on official sites.

Posted: Mon Feb 03, 2014.   Comments (2)

Giant Red Palm Weevil Larva —

An Italian newspaper has reported that firefighters near Naples recently discovered a giant larva of a Red Palm Weevil (Rhynchophorus ferrugineus). The larva, which was as big as an adult pig, was still alive, and as the firefighters approached it, the thing emitted a shrill cry similar to the whinny of a horse.

The larva appears to be a result of "radioactive gigantism" caused by toxic waste in the so-called "Land of Fires" region of southern Italy. It has been taken to the Naples Museum to be studied by entomologists.

At least, this is what I could understand of the story with help from Google Translate. (Any corrections/additions from Italian speakers would be appreciated!) The entire story, of course, is baloney. But I like the photo.

Wikipedia offers this information about the Red Palm Weevil:
The red palm weevil, Rhynchophorus ferrugineus, is a species of snout beetle also known as the Asian palm weevil or sago palm weevil. The adult beetles are relatively large, ranging between two and five centimeters long, and are usually a rusty red colour - but many colour variants exist and have often been misidentified as different species (e.g., Rhynchophorus vulneratus;). Weevil larvae can excavate holes in the trunk of a palm trees up to a metre long, thereby weakening and eventually killing the host plant. As a result, the weevil is considered a major pest in palm plantations, including the coconut palm, date palm and oil palm.

Posted: Fri Jan 24, 2014.   Comments (1)

Lions at large in the Hamptons —

Dan's Papers, which serves the Hamptons in New York, recently reported that lions were going to be released in order to cull the growing deer population in the region. The lions would be supplied, free of charge, by a wealthy South African industrialist who had recently bought a home there.

The report disturbed some of the locals. According to southampton.patch.com: "[The police] fielded anywhere between 10 and 15 calls from residents voicing their anger at the 'news,' and at least one caller claimed to have seen a lion stalking her back yard."

The report was actually the latest effort from Dan Rattiner, the "hoaxer of the Hamptons" — the owner and founder of Dan's Papers. He's been salting his papers with fake stories since the 1960s. Way longer than all these johhny-come-lately fake-news sites online nowadays.
Posted: Sun Jan 05, 2014.   Comments (2)

Dog finds way home after 8 years —

The Reid family lost Junior, their Jack Russell terrier, in 2005. He went out to "go potty" and never returned. (Evidently the Reid family didn't have an enclosed backyard). Eight years later, Junior showed up at the bottom of their driveway. They knew it was him because he was still wearing the same collar and tags. They're calling his return a miracle. [myfox8.com]

Something's not right with this story. As Doubtful News says, "Is this the whole story? Is it really the same dog? Confusing."

I can think of some possible explanations, though who knows what the truth really is:

1) Eight years ago, someone took Junior. Never changed his collar and tags. And then, Junior either escaped, or his kidnappers decided to get rid of him and dumped him back where they found him.

2) Someone in the Reid family decided to whip up a Christmas surprise for the kids by engineering the miraculous return of Junior. So they got a new Jack Russell, put a "Junior" tag on him, and discovered him at the bottom of the driveway.

The "rediscovered pet" is an old theme. Similar stories we've seen include The Cat That Crossed 3000 Miles To Come Home from 1951 (a classic of the genre), and more recently the Tortoise That Survived in a Closet for 30 Years.
Posted: Sat Dec 21, 2013.   Comments (0)

Do sharks dislike the taste of human flesh? — Dr. Daniel Bucher, a shark expert at Southern Cross University, says that the notion they do is just a myth. So if you have a pet shark, go ahead and feed them fresh filet-o-human.

Oh no ... sharks DO like the taste of human flesh
The Logan Reporter

According to Southern Cross University shark expert Dr Daniel Bucher it is not true sharks don't like the taste of human flesh. He said there was no evidence to support this claim, which he believed gained acceptance to allay people's fears of shark attack.
"Normally they eat fish, but they don't mind red meat if they can get it," he said.
"Seals have very red meat (like humans) from oxygen binding proteins in the blood. Great white sharks feed on seals."

To be honest, I had never heard this claim of sharks disliking the taste of humans, but with some googling I quickly found people expressing this opinion. So the idea is definitely out there. But it made me curious, so I looked into it a bit more.

The idea of sharks disliking human flesh is rooted in the observation that most shark attacks involve a single bite before the shark swims away. As if the shark was doing a taste test and decided, "No! Don't like that!"

Going back a few decades, one can find scientists stating that sharks don't like the taste of us. For instance, in September 1968, Dr. Shelton Applegate, associate curator of vertebrate paleontology at the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History, told this to the Associated Press.

The Evening Independent - Sep 2, 1968

But scientific thinking on this topic has become more nuanced.

In a 2004 interview with National Geographic, shark expert R. Aidan Martin explained that sharks tend to bite humans once and then swim away because their intention is not to eat us, but rather to investigate what we are:

"Great whites are curious and investigative animals. That's what most people don't realize. When great whites bite something unfamiliar to them, whether a person or a crab pot, they're looking for tactile evidence about what it is. A great white uses its teeth the way humans use their hands. In a living shark, every tooth has ten to fifteen degrees of flex. When the animal opens its mouth, the tooth bed is pulled back, causing their teeth to splay out like a cat's whiskers. Combine that with the flexibility of each tooth, and you realize a great white can use its jaws like a pair of forceps. They're very adept at grabbing things that snag their curiosity."

However, Martin also noted that sharks don't like the boniness of humans. So, given a choice, they'd rather eat a fat, plump seal than a scrawny, bony human — even if the taste of our flesh is palatable to them.

So, to sum up, sharks like our flesh, but they don't like our bones.

And here's a random video I came across while researching the topic:

Posted: Wed Dec 18, 2013.   Comments (1)

Tail Lights for Horses—a case of satirical prophecy — On April 1, 1961, Milan's La Notte newspaper reported that city authorities had passed a new law making it mandatory for horses to be outfitted with signaling and brake lights while being ridden through the streets or neighboring countryside. Back then, quite a few people in the area still rode horses, so the law was going to have quite a broad impact. And, so the story goes, many people subsequently brought their horses into car mechanics to have them outfitted with the necessary lights.

This is considered to be one of Italy's classic April Fool's Day hoaxes. And, as is so often the case, it's only a matter of time before reality eventually catches up with satire.

No city has passed a law requiring horse tail lights. However, over on KickStarter Sami Gros is trying to raise money for what she describes as the "world's first LED lighting system for horses," aka Horse Tail Lights. Unfortunately, it looks like the lights are only designed to increase visibility. They can't be used to indicate turning or braking. But perhaps future versions of them will!

Posted: Sat Dec 07, 2013.   Comments (0)

Cat Drinks From Bottle —

There's not a lot of info on where this photo comes from. It's listed on the website of the French National Library as having been created in 1911 by the "Agence Rol." photo agency. For 1911, it's a pretty good example of photo fakery.

Also included in the same series is "Cat peers through binoculars" and "cat looks through a telescope."

Found these over at retronaut.com.
Posted: Tue Dec 03, 2013.   Comments (0)

World’s Largest Tortoise — The International Business Times reports that a "fake image" purporting to show the "world's largest tortoise" being transported on a flatbed truck has recently been circulating online.

I think it's been circulating for at least half a year, but it's not correct to call it a fake image. It's a still from Gamera The Brave (a 2006 Japanese monster movie) that has been falsely captioned. Here's another picture of the "world's largest tortoise" in action:

The question that popped into my head is whether the creature in the image is a tortoise or a turtle. The distinction between the two has always been a bit hazy in my mind.

According to diffen.com, tortoises live on land while turtles live in the water. But wikipedia notes that in North America it's common to use 'turtle' as a generic term for all reptiles of the chelonian order (i.e. turtles and tortoises get lumped together).

Gamera is commonly referred to as both a turtle and a tortoise. But since he walks on his back legs, flies, and breathes fire, it doesn't really seem important to get fussy about what kind of reptile he's classified as.
Posted: Tue Nov 26, 2013.   Comments (1)

Squirrel Rides Fawn —

This unusual photo ran in numerous papers in September 1963. I can't find a linkable example in the Google News Archive, but here it is in the Binghamton Press [PDF]. (A lot of examples of it come up in a search on newspaperarchive.com, but that's a paid archive, so I can't link to any of the results.)

The caption read:
All the animals are pretty tame at the Percy Pangborn Ranch above Lake Wenatchee in the foothills of Washington State's Cascade Mountains, Sept 14. 1963. A golden mantled ground squirrel chomps away on a nut as it rides around on the neck of a fawn.

The photo looks a little suspect to me. However, none of the papers it ran in raised any doubts about its veracity.

Back in the 60s, photo editors would often darken the outlines of figures in photos so that you could see them better when they ran in newspapers. To modern eyes, this can make "real" photos look manipulated. That might be the case with this photo. Perhaps the outline of the squirrel was darkened, which makes the squirrel look like it was pasted into the shot. But given the subject matter — a squirrel riding a fawn while eating a nut — I'm still suspicious.
Posted: Sat Nov 16, 2013.   Comments (0)

Snipe Hunting Kit — Star Bound magazine sells a Snipe Hunting Kit. For only $12.95 you get a Snipe Hunting Guide, a Snipe burlap bag, a Snipe permit (to be filled out by the catcher), and a flashlight for the catcher.

It says that the guidebook includes a "harvest report." And, "If the harvest report is sent back to the Star Bound Magazine's office (called the Snipe Hunting Association in the guidebook) with the proper fee, we will send back a certificate that will certify the name on the report as having had their first Snipe hunt and was the one left holding the bag."

Posted: Mon Sep 23, 2013.   Comments (0)

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