Is that possible?
When my children were young, I used to tell them stories, often about ants that could talk and would get into all kinds of strife and dangerous situations. Well, sadly it did not turn any of my children into insect lovers or even scientists, but at least sometimes nowadays that they have children of their own they grab a book from the shelf and read it to them (or ask the children to read it themselves).
Although it is getting rare these days to come across a children’s book in which tigers populate the African jungle, some books still contain awful zoological blunders. Perhaps illustrators of children’s books can be excused when they draw a spider’s abdomen as segmented (which it never is) and only two eyes on the head instead of the usual six or eight, but when butterflies and bees, instead of the regular four wings, are only given two, or spiders have six legs and are called insects some criticism is justified. What really irritated me was a booklet on the life of Arctic Eskimos or, as they call themselves, “Inuit” (= the real people). Quite sound from an ethnological viewpoint, it contained horrific errors in the “animal department”. There were polar bears next to penguins and in one drawing an Arctic hunter battled with a leopard seal, while in the background walruses were scuttling away. Fact is polar bears and Arctic hunters would never encounter a penguin while an Antarctic leopard seal would never see a walrus.
Zoological inaccuracies, of course, are not restricted to children’s books.
I remember, many years ago, I went to see the prize-winning movie “Patton”, a war film about the life of famous U.S. General Patton. In the opening scene of the movie scorpions were climbing over the dead bodies of soldiers exposed to the desert sun. This zoological absurdity (firstly, scorpions are nocturnal and would not be out in the bright daytime sun and secondly, they would take no interest in the corpses of slain soldiers) spoiled the remaining two hours of the movie for me. Not quite as annoying, but also incorrect, was Verdi (whose music I do appreciate). However, in Act 1, Scene 2 of his opera “A Masked Ball”, he refers to fire-eating salamanders as “hissing” or “roaring”, but of course fire salamanders neither hiss nor roar and they die in the fire as readily as other animals.
As a collector of coins with animal motifs it amused me to see that the 10 Aurar coin of the fishing nation “Iceland” featured a squid with 6 short and two long arms, when in fact squid possess 8 shorter and 2 longer arms, in other words 10 (and not 8) altogether. Probably one of the most amusing stamp blunders is that of reindeer on a French Antarctic stamp from 1987! Reindeer, called caribou in North America, are Arctic and not Antarctic animals.
Even though I do enjoy being a zoologist and consider myself quite knowledgeable about animals, I guess there can be moments when knowing too much of an organism can be a definite fun-spoiler.
© Dr V.B. Meyer-Rochow and http://www.bioforthebiobuff.wordpress.com, 2016.
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