Penguins are perverts, pandas like sex, hyenas are feminist icons and bats are the animal kingdom’s most generous lovers and friends. In this talk, zoologist and television presenter Lucy Cooke (Springwatch, Curious Creatures) dispels the myths and reveals the scientific truths about some of the world’s most – and least – popular animals.
We have a long history of getting animals wrong. We get tripped up by our egos and our urge to anthropomorphise. Penguins are cute, so we want to think of them as monogamous breeders and devoted parents. The inscrutable nature of evolution itself doesn’t help. It’s a process that unfolds across deep time, and sometimes the things that work – say, the sloth’s ultra-slow metabolism and upside down lifestyle – just look weird to us.
In her book, The Unexpected Truth About Animals, zoologist Lucy Cooke has gathered together our biggest myths, mistakes and misconceptions about animals – from Aristotle to Disney – to reveal the surprising (and often hilarious stories) behind her menagerie of misunderstood: eels, beavers, sloths, hyenas, vultures, bats, frogs, storks, hippos, moose, pandas, penguins and chimpanzees.
From the two-thousand-year-long hunt for the eel’s missing gonads to the belief that birds migrate to the moon, our stories about animals reveal as much about us as they do about the animals they misrepresent. We once thought that frogs spontaneously generated out of mud, that hyenas switched sex according to the season, and that bears gave birth to formless lumps that were licked into shape by their mothers.
Animal myths or animal truths
Vultures are unclean (myth) – Vultures hoover up pestilence and poop out purity – their acidic excrement is such an effective disinfectant you could use it as a hand sanitiser (truth)
Sloths are lazy evolutionary losers that sleep all the time (myth) – Sloths are one of the most successful tropical mammals and sleep less than 10 hours a day
Lucy Cooke unravels these myths, revealing the unexpected truths she’s uncovered whilst personally snooping on sloths, stalking drunken moose and spying on tobogganing penguins.
‘Endlessly fascinating.’ Bill Bryson
‘Eye-opening, informative and very funny!’ Chris Packham
‘Well-informed and downright funny.’ Richard Dawkins
‘As surprising as it is diverse…illuminating, remarkable – and very, very funny.’ Alice Roberts
‘A compendium of intriguing and revelatory animal information.’ Robin Ince
Lucy Cooke is an award-winning broadcaster and filmmaker with a Masters in zoology from Oxford University (where she was tutored by Richard Dawkins). She began her career working behind the scenes in television comedy but is now an increasingly familiar face on natural history TV, having presented prime-time series for BBC, ITV and National Geographic. She writes for the Telegraph and the Huffington Post. Her previous book (a picture book about sloths – A Little Book of Sloth) was a New York Times bestseller.
Saturday 20 October
Venue: The Forum, Auditorium