10 Brutal But Hilarious Old Disses of Adorable Animals 

iStock/WMarissen
iStock/WMarissen

Today, we tend to speak about the animal kingdom with a certain reverence. How times have changed! A century ago, some people didn’t think twice about taking cheap shots at our fellow creatures. Neither did their forebears 100 years before that. Even Charles Darwin relished in demeaning the marine iguana, which he said were “most disgusting, clumsy Lizards.” If that burn makes you feel bad for the iguanas, just wait until you read Ernest Hemingway’s anti-hyena rant. 

1. “I HAVE NEVER SEEN SUCH AN UGLY ANIMAL OR ONE THAT IS MORE USELESS.”

Young sloth hanging upside down in a tree
iStock/tomalu

Who Said It: Gonzalo Fernandez de Oviedo y Valdes (1478-1557)
The Target: Sloths
A Spanish historian and adventurer, Oviedo was among the first Europeans to ever encounter these sluggish mammals. Apparently, they didn’t leave a good impression on him. In his 1526 book, The Natural History of the West Indies, Oviedo called sloths “the stupidest animal that can be found in the world."

Ironically, Oviedo kept a pet sloth during his travels in South America. Feeding it wasn’t easy. “No one can find out what this animal eats,” he complained. “I had one in my home, and from my observations I have come to believe that this animal lives on air.” Of course, we now know that sloths mainly subsist on plant buds, shoots, and leaves—along with the occasional insect or small vertebrate. 

Oviedo wasn’t the last one to throw shade on sloths. Georges Cuvier (1769-1832), one of the greatest zoologists in history, wrote that in sloths, “nature seems to have amused herself by producing something imperfect and grotesque.”

2. “RHINOCEROS ARE TRUCULENT, BLUSTERING BEASTS, MUCH THE MOST STUPID OF ALL THE DANGEROUS GAME I KNOW.”

White rhinoceros
iStock/EcoPic

Who Said It: Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919)
The Target: Rhinos
Roosevelt was one of those animal lovers who also liked shooting them. In his autobiography, he offers plenty of advice for bringing down everything from grizzlies to elephants. 

While Roosevelt “personally had no difficulties with lions,” he recounted several close calls with angry rhinos. “Generally, their attitude is one of mere stupidity and bluff,” he wrote. “But on occasions, they do charge wickedly, both when wounded and when entirely unprovoked.” He would know. After leaving the White House in 1909, Roosevelt and his son Kermit went on an African hunting expedition on which they killed a whopping 512 animals—including 11 black rhinos and nine white ones. 

Roosevelt's safari was sponsored by the Smithsonian—which he rewarded with more 23,000 valuable specimens, 11,000 of which were animals.

3. “THAT STRANGE LITTLE ANIMAL OF ZOOLOGICAL PERVERSITIES.”

Platypus swimming in greenish water
iStock/IainStych

Who Said It: Ernest Scott (1867-1939)
The Target: Platypuses
You don't need to be a biologist to appreciate how the platypus's discovery confounded animal experts. In January 1939, Ernest Scott, head the Australian and New Zealand Society for the Advancement of Science, gave a lecture on the platypus, “that strange little animal of zoological perversities.” In his words, “the platypus is an historical character. It set the anatomists all agog when specimens were first examined in Europe.” 

Scott wasn’t exaggerating. In 1793, South Wales governor John Hunter had written a paper on the strange beast. Among other things, he theorized that the platypus must have been created by “a promiscuous intercourse” between several different animals. 

4. “HE IS A BIRD OF BAD MORAL CHARACTER. HE DOES NOT GET HIS LIVING HONESTLY.”

Head of a bald eagle
iStock/tvirbickis

Who Said It: Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790)
The Target: Bald Eagles
Did Franklin really want the turkey to be America’s national emblem? No. (In fact, the symbol he proposed was of Moses at the Red Sea.) Franklin didn’t think much of bald eagles, either.  

Congress adopted the Great Seal of the United States in 1782. At its center is a bald eagle soaring with patriotic pride. Two years later, Franklin wrote a letter to his daughter, Sarah Bache, with a scathing critique of the raptor’s personality.

“For my own part I wish the Bald Eagle had not been chosen,” he wrote. “He is a bird of bad moral character. He does not get his living honestly.” He accused bald eagles of stealing prey from ospreys (which is true) and being easily scared off by smaller birds (also true—crows sometimes gang up on the eagles to chase them away).  

5. “IF ANYONE DESIRES TO SEE A BLACKER, UGLIER, MORE SAVAGE, AND MORE UNTAMEABLE BEAST THAN OUR ‘DEVIL,’ HE MUST BE DIFFICULT TO PLEASE.”

Juvenile Tasmanian devil
iStock/Redzaal

Who Said It: Louisa Anne Meredith (1812-1895)
The Target: Tasmanian Devils
This marsupial has been vilified for ages. During the 19th century, rumor had it that the creatures could even skeletonize unwary travelers. Soon, popular Aussie writers bought into the hype—including Meredith. In 1880, she penned the above sentence to defend the killing of 150 devils by a local shepherd. “We don’t show the brutes any mercy; they do too much mischief,” Meredith wrote.

In reality, Tasmanian devils don’t prey on humans and usually won’t attack unless threatened. Furthermore, despite Meredith’s concerns about their taste for full-grown sheep, the devils mainly kill sick or young ones.   

6. “IT IS AN ANIMAL NO LESS MISCHIEVOUS THAN IT IS DEFORMED.”

Vampire bat
iStock/Dervical

Who Said It: Georges-Louis Leclerc, comte de Buffon (1707-1788)
The Target: Vampire Bats
Other mammals with terrible reputations include the three known vampire bat species. Natives of Central and South America, these blood-sippers predominantly feed on cows, chickens, and other livestock. And, yes, one of these bats—the common vampire bat (Desmodus rotundus)—does occasionally bite humans. For that to happen, the victim is usually asleep and the bite tends to occur on the big toe.

Buffon described the bat in volume seven of his encyclopedic Natural History series. The animal’s nose “is deformed, its nostrils resembling a funnel, with a membrane at the top which … greatly heightens the deformity of its face,” he wrote. 

7. “[THEY HAVE] A SINGULARLY STUPID AIR, NOT AT ALL BELIED BY THEIR MANNERS.”

Common snipe standing in a marsh
iStock/Andrew_Howe

Who Said It: Georges-Louis Leclerc, comte de Buffon (1707-1788)
The Target: Snipes
Yes, snipes are real. The long-beaked wading birds poke around for worms and other invertebrates on warm or temperate beaches all over Eurasia, Africa, Australia, and the Americas. Ornithologists currently recognize around 20 species—the largest of which can be 19 inches long from beak tip to tail tip. 

Buffon mocked their appearance in another installment in his multi-volume Natural History. “A character peculiar to these birds,” he wrote, “is a compressed head and large eyes placed considerably behind, which give them a singularly stupid air not at all belied by their manners.” 

8. “THERE IS NO DEPTH OF MEANNESS, TREACHERY, OR CRUELTY TO WHICH THEY DO NOT CHEERFULLY DESCEND.”

Two gray wolves running through a snowy landscape
iStock/KenCanning

Who Said It: William Temple Hornaday (1854-1937)
The Target: Gray Wolves
The American bison had a powerful friend in Hornaday, a hunter-turned-naturalist who set up a captive bison breeding program, founded the National Bison Society, and helped establish protected ranges for them in Kansas and Montana.

Yet his attitude towards wolves was far less accommodating. In 1904, Hornaday opined that every single one was not only “deadly dangerous to man,” but “a black-hearted murderer and criminal.” Moreover, there was supposedly “no depth of meanness, treachery, or cruelty to which they do not cheerfully descend.” 

Since colonial times, American farmers had been at odds with wolves, which frequently killed livestock. In the late 19th century, the government established bounty programs—some of which lasted until 1965—that would pay private hunters anywhere from $20 to $50 per dead wolf.

By 1960, only about 300 wolves remained in the lower 48 states. Then, in 1973, Congress granted them formal protection under the Endangered Species Act. Since then, gray wolves have been steadily recovering—with roughly 5500 now roaming the contiguous United States.

9. “TORPID, SENSELESS CREATURES.”

Mother koala and baby koala snuggling
iStock/Windzepher

Who Said It: George Perry (1771-?)
The Target: Koalas
A stonemason by trade, Perry’s real passion was natural history. From 1810 to 1811, he published The Arcana, a monthly illustrated magazine dedicated to the study of life. 

In one 1811 issue, his readers were greeted with the first painting of a koala in a European publication. Perry’s caption called it “the Koalo, or New Holland Sloth.” And, just as Oviedo didn’t know what to make of real sloths, Perry was befuddled by this arboreal weirdo. Arcana subscribers were told that the “torpid, senseless creatures” were “supposed to live chiefly on berries and fruits.”

Perry added, “Whether we consider the uncouth and remarkable form of its body, which is particularly awkward and unwieldy, or its strange … manner of living, we are at a loss to imagine for what particular scale of usefulness or happiness such an animal could by the great Author of Nature possibly be destined.”

10. “A HERMAPHRODITIC SELF-EATING DEVOURER OF THE DEAD.”

Spotted hyena in a clearing
iStock/PickledImages

Who Said It: Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961)
The Target: Hyenas
These mammals were getting bad press long before The Lion King opened. Teddy Roosevelt said they were “too cowardly ever to be a source of danger to the hunter.” He did give them some credit: “The hyena is a beast of unusual strength, and of enormous power in his jaws and teeth ... the creature is fraught with a terror all its own.” 

Ernest Hemingway had an even less flattering outlook. In The Green Hills of Africa (1935), which chronicles a safari he took two years earlier, Hemingway called the hyena a “hermaphroditic, self-eating devourer of the dead, trailer of calving cows, ham-stringer, potential biter-off of your face at night while you slept, sad yowler, camp-follower, stinking, foul, with jaws that crack the bones the lion leaves, belly dragging, loping away on the brown plain.” (Incidentally, it was Roosevelt’s 1909 expedition that inspired Hemingway to take this trip.)

Hemingway was semi-correct: Female hyenas do have pseudo-penises (more or less a weirdly-shaped clitoris), but they're not hermaphrodites. And while they’re not above scavenging, hyenas actively kill 95 percent of their meals. Lions are far more likely to munch on a hyena’s leftovers than vice versa. Sorry, Hemingway.

It’s Easy Being Green: Most Amphibians Are Biofluorescent, Study Finds

An alpine newt glows green after being exposed to blue light.
An alpine newt glows green after being exposed to blue light.
Jennifer Y. Lamb and Matthew P. Davis

If you walk through a forest at night, you see only darkness and shadows, and perhaps the smudgy outline of trees against the sky. But if you were a salamander snuggled in the leaf litter, under the right light conditions, you might see something completely different: foliage glimmering in shades of red, and your fellow amphibians glowing in brilliant greens.

Biofluorescence—in which animals emit a fluorescent glow after absorbing high-energy wavelengths of light—is likely widespread among most, if not all, amphibians, according to a new study published in the journal Scientific Reports. Previously, only one species of salamander and three frog species were known to biofluoresce.

Alpine newt under white light
The same view of an alpine newt under white light
Jennifer Y. Lamb and Matthew P. Davis

“I do field work, so I’m out there capturing species of amphibians, and I think, ‘huh, I wonder if this fluoresces,’” says Jennifer Y. Lamb, an assistant professor of biology at St. Cloud State University in Minnesota. She and co-author Matthew P. Davis, an assistant professor at the university, collected representatives from eight of the 10 salamander families, five families of frogs, and one family of caecelians, a type of limbless amphibian. They exposed each critter to high-energy blue light and then viewed them through a yellow filter to see if and how they glowed.

“One of the first salamanders we tested was the Eastern tiger salamander. We saw that it fluoresced really brightly, and that kind of got us hooked,” Lamb tells Mental Floss. “We started [to look] across salamander diversity, [and asked ourselves], ‘OK, how many species do we see within salamanders that biofluoresce?’ When we started to notice, ‘hey, it’s actually a lot of them!’, the question became, ‘can frogs do it?’ Then we looked at a relative of frogs, the caecelians—‘do they do it?’ And it seemed like biofluorescence in some form or fashion is present in all of these lineages.”

Biofluorescent salamander
A biofluorescent Eastern tiger salamander
Jennifer Y. Lamb and Matthew P. Davis

The various amphibians fluoresced in unique patterns depending on their skin’s coloration and markings as seen under normal white light. Some gleamed in blotches, others in stripes. A few animals' bones glowed. Lamb was surprised to see that salamanders’ bellies, which were usually red or orange under white light, glowed brighter than their backs after exposure to blue light.

“A lot of these newts have evolved what we call aposematic coloration, or warning colors. When they’re threatened by a predator, they’ll basically contort their bodies to show off their bellies as a warning,” Lamb says. “So it begs the question, if these bellies are also biofluorescent, then maybe some of their predators can visualize biofluorescence.”

The researchers intend their study to be a roadmap for further study into the fascinating ability. “Now that we know that this phenomenon exists across amphibians, there’s all kinds of interesting applications that future researchers may head towards,” Davis tells Mental Floss. For example, no one yet knows what kind of mechanisms allow amphibians to biofluoresce: In some groups it might be a color-based molecule or compound; in others, maybe something in their mucus.

Biofluorescent frog
A Cranwell's frog glows under blue light.
Jennifer Y. Lamb and Matthew P. Davis

Scientists also don’t know exactly how different amphibians might visualize their own biofluorescence. Salamanders, frogs, and caecelians have rod cells in their eyes that are sensitive to green light, suggesting that they may have evolved green biofluorescence and the ability to see it at the same time, though further research is needed on that front.

“We have to be careful about not falling into the trap of only perceiving the world through our own eyes,” Lamb says. “Human vision is set to a particular set of wavelengths, and that’s not the case across all animal diversity. And that may not be the case in terms of these amphibians.”

Biofluorescent salamander
A biofluorescent three-lined salamander
Jennifer Y. Lamb and Matthew P. Davis

Finally, researchers are debating what purpose biofluorescence serves. In other animals, scientists have suggested it could play a role in communication, camouflage, or choosing a mate. Amphibians might use biofluorescence to locate each other in dense leaf litter.

“We’re hoping this study stimulates researchers to start looking at biofluorescence more broadly across the various different kinds of amphibian lineages that they may work on, so we can fill in the gaps in knowledge,” Davis says.

“There’s still a lot to learn about animal groups that we think we know,” he adds. “There’s still lots of interesting things out there to find that can help us rethink their life history and biology, and that may point us in new exploratory directions.”

You’ll Be Able to Buy Some of Fiona the Hippo’s Poop to Fertilize Your Garden

Mark Dumont, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0
Mark Dumont, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

Fiona the hippo has come along way since she was born two months premature at the Cincinnati Zoo in 2017. Today, Fiona is happy and healthy, weighing in at more than 1200 pounds. A hippo that size makes a lot of excrement, and now Fiona fans can purchase some of it to fertilize their gardens, WLWT5 reports.

Fiona produces about 22 pounds of poop a day; just 7 pounds shy of her birth weight. Normally the dung would be sent to a landfill, but as part of its new zero-waste initiative, the Cincinnati Zoo is composting all of its animal waste into fertilizer. Much of it will be added to the zoo's own farm and gardens, but some will also be available to purchase from the zoo's gift shops and online store. The fertilizer will be made from the dung left behind by the hundreds of animals living at the zoo, including Fiona.

The Cincinnati Zoo bills itself as the greenest zoo in the country. In addition to recycling all of its animal waste into compost, it also aims to fill its animal habitats with recycled rain water and grow more food for its animals on its own farm [PDF]. For the zero-waste part of the plan, the zoo plans to repurpose two million pounds of animal feces each year using a combination of on-site and off-site composting.

The zoo is in the process of acquiring the necessary equipment to launch its waste composting program. When the time comes, Fiona will be ready to make her sizable contributions to the project.

[h/t WLWT5]

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