Tag Archives: myth

The Loch Ness Monster is a popular tourist attraction that attracts a lot of capital for local businesses. Some of this revenue is used in conservation and management of wildlife.

How mythical creatures can help conservation or, on the contrary, lead to species going extinct

A new study performed by British researchers cautions conservationists to be very mindful of local traditions and myths if they’re to be successful. According to their analysis, there is much to gain if researchers and policy makers acknowledge people’s spiritual, magical, and cultural beliefs instead of shunning them as irrational behavior.

The Loch Ness Monster is a popular tourist attraction that attracts a lot of capital for local businesses. Some of this revenue is used in conservation and management of wildlife.

The Loch Ness Monster is a popular tourist attraction, which means a lot of capital for local businesses. Some of this revenue is used in conservation and management of wildlife.

The eyes of death

One prime example where mythical beasts intersect with vulnerable species is Madagascar. In many respects, some native communities continue to live as they did for centuries, including old customs and traditional beliefs.

An influential part of Malagasy life are the local taboos or fadys. Sometimes these fadys can help protect local wildlife, whereas other times these can put pressure on endangered species.

For instance, local Malagasy people believe the critically endangered radiated tortoise (Astrochelys radiata) is sacred. They simply refuse to touch the animal that has a high-domed shell, a blunt head, and elephantine feet, out of fear of spiritual retribution. Oddly, though, the locals will not intervene when foreigners harm or move the tortoises as they believe these ‘outsiders’ are not bound by the same rules. So, it’s a pretty straightforward example where magical thinking both directly and indirectly influences how species fair in a habitat.

Another worthy example, staying in the same Madagascar, is the fady surrounding the aye-aye (Daubentonia madagascariensis). The Malagasy believe this rather cute and adorable primate is the impersonation of evil. Simply spotting an aye-aye is thought of as a sure sign of death or sickness for someone in the village.

Malagasy people believe the aye-aye is a symbol of death. Natives say that if an aye-aye points its middle finger at you, then death will soon befall. So… aye-ayes usually get killed on sight. Credit: YouTube.

Malagasy people believe the aye-aye is a symbol of death. Natives say that if an aye-aye points its middle finger at you, then death will soon befall. So… aye-ayes usually get killed on sight. Credit: YouTube.

Legend has it, the aye-aye sneaks into homes and murders the occupants in their sleep with their long, slender middle finger. When the Malagasy spot an aye-aye, they usually do whatever’s in their best power to kill it. What’s more, the fady calls for the corpse of the aye-aye to be displayed on roadside poles in order to dispell the jinx.

An aye-aye’s middle finger is particularly longer than the other digits, which the primate makes good use of by tapping trees for wood-boring insect larvae moving under the bark. It employs the same middle finger to fish them out. Yum!

An aye-aye’s middle finger is particularly longer than the other digits, which the primate makes good use of by tapping trees for wood-boring insect larvae moving under the bark. It employs the same middle finger to fish them out. Yum! Credit: YouTube

“It is difficult to predict how magical creatures can affect conservation goals. There are examples of myths and superstitions seriously harming the survival of certain species, and examples where they actually help species to survive,” said lead author Dr George Holmes, from the School of Earth and Environment at Leeds, in a statement.

“Current views of magical animals within the field of conservation are inadequate, as they are unable to deal with what many would see as irrational beliefs and behaviours. What we need is a more interdisciplinary approach to conservation that helps us to understand the interactions between humans and both living and magical biodiversity.”

When magical thinking touches the lives of wildlife

Madagascar shows why understanding people’s magical beliefs needs to be seriously considered in order to protect the local wildlife. But Madagascar is far from being an outlier. Other examples abound, from places like Ethiopia or Tanzania to areas of the world where people usually think myths aren’t taken seriously, like Scottland. It is here that in 2015 alone, 350,000 people flocked to Loch Ness in the Scottish Highlands to get a glimpse of Nessie’s breeding ground. This translates to a lot of capital flowing into the local communities — restaurants, hotels, gifts shops etc. Some of this revenue has been drawn into conservation and management of the area.

In Ethiopia, spotted hyena numbers have been declining at alarming rates around urban areas. Away from cities, though, hyenas are revered, as natives believe they consume evil spirits with their cackles. As such, this seemingly naive thinking has genuinely helped support the hyena populations.

Elsewhere in Iceland, a proposed new highway that environmentalists claimed would disrupt wildlife was shut down by a 2013 court order. Apparently, the highway would have crossed the habitat of the Huldufólk –– Iceland’s mythical elves.

[ALSO SEE] Five common biology myths

The team concludes in its paper, published in the journal Oryxthat magical thinking shouldn’t be taken lightly. Ideally, more work will help conservationists identify where and how to work with the local community so wildlife might benefit from such traditional myths.

“We really need to open up a discussion about how fantastic beasts can affect our ability to conserve the natural world, because there are no simple cases. Conservationists ignore mythical creatures at the peril of both biodiversity and the local people that live near or within significant conservation sites,” said Co-author Dr Thomas Smith, from Cardiff University.

“Further research into the impact of magical creatures on conservation and local people is required if we are to effectively conserve the world’s endangered species,” he added.

Busting 8 of the weirdest science myths

Well you’ve probably all seen the Myth Busters. I’ve watched some episodes and loved most of them, so I’m hoping I can give them a hand. I haven’t watched all the episodes so if they (or anybody else) already took care of these myths well… oh well.

The duck’s quack doesn’t echo

duck

This is one of the most quacky myths you can come across. Sorry to break your hearts guys, but the duck’s quack does have an echo. As far as I was able to find, there wasn’t anything to document this in the first place, it was just spread like plague, but there was (at least) a study to prove this wrong. If you want to read it, you can get it HERE. The myth probably arose because the echo is indeed more quiet then you would expect, and maybe they just don’t hang around good reflecting surfaces. I don’t know.

The chameleon’s tongue is 5 times longer than his body

The chameleon is a master of disguise, being able to change colurs to transmit social messages, describe how their feeling, and even to mimic the surrounding environment. That’s a fact. They also have long tongues which they hunt with, but nowhere near as long as popular belief has it. The chameleon’s tongue is about as long as his body, which is about 8-12 inches (10-30 cm). This, and other facts about this amazing animal HERE.

Sneezing myths

There’s a whole lot of myths about sneezing. Firstly, they say your heart stops when you sneeze, which can cause you problems if you sneeze hard or often. Wrong ! The heart’s intensity may rise or lower (nothing dangerous though), because just before sneezing you inhale a lot of air, thus increasing your lung pressure, and then quickly exhale.

Then there’s the thing with eyes. It’s also a common belief that you can’t keep your eyes open while you sneeze. I remember some friends and myself tried this for a month or so, and nobody succeeded in doing this. Well as it turns out, some people can actually sneeze with their eyes open, and even more than once. Yes, that means that your eyes don’t pop out if you keep them open while sneezing.

Turtles and bees are deaf

seaturtlepic

There’s still some debate here, because it depends on how you define deaf. Bees don’t have ears, so they don’t pick up sounds the way we do, but they do sense and distinguish between vibrations with their feet. They can actually pick up sounds we can’t, but it’s still unknown if they can interpret them as good as we do. It was believed for a long time that turtles are deaf too. They have auditory organs, and if they’re not responding to sounds, it’s probably just because they don’t care. Their hearing is probably very weak though.

A pencil thick spider’s silk thread is capable of stopping a Boeing-747

This is one of my favorite myths of all time. It has it all ! We know spider silk is one of the toughest substances known to man, so it’s believable. It’s just a pencil thick spider silk agains a huge plain, just like David and Goliath, and it’s man against nature, which (let’s face it) only has one winner. However, the spider wouldn’t stand a chance here. Even if the plane would be at landing speed (80 m/s) as opposed to full speed (>300 m/s), the spider thread would have to be 30 km long, which would require just above 100.000 million spiders to make. You really should take a look at this, which is where I took the numbers from. The calculations are indeed spectacular, and from what I can tell they are correct. A really interesting study indeed.

Canada has 1/3 of the world’s water

I’m not even sure if this is about drinkable water or any type of water, but the good thing is that it doesn’t matter. If it’s about drinking water, Canada is actually in the 3rd place, after Brasil and Russia; and if it’s about all water, well then, 70% percent of it is located at the Poles.

1 grade higher on the Richter scale means an earthquake 32 times powerful

Not technically a myth, but often used. The Richter scale is logarithmic scale, and 1 degree means actually an earthquake 10 times stronger. This probably comes from confusion with the Moment Magnitude Scale.

American astronauts have to be shorter than 1.80

astronaut

Good news for you folks, that’s not true either. You have to be between 1.57 and 1.91 m. Now go and chase your dream !

Well, those are not all, but the most interesting things I was able to come across, so here’s hoping this makes you look witty when some of your friends are mentioning them, and if you know of any others, feel free to add them.