'The Truth About Animals': Storks Flying to the Moon, and Other Wild Tales

Live Science sat down with Cooke yesterday (April 17) to explore the wild interactions and historical misunderstandings humans have had with animals dating to the time of Aristotle. And believe us when we say there are misunderstandings. So. Many. Misunderstandings. 

For instance, people had no idea for centuries where the stork and other birds went in the winter. Nowadays, we know that these birds migrate to warmer places. But before this was widely known or accepted, the 17th-century scientist and minister Charles Morton proposed another idea: Storks flew to the moon "in one great flock," he wrote, according to Cooke's book. [In Photos: The Amazing Penguins of Antarctica]

This incredible journey took the stork about 60 days, each way, giving the birds enough time to spend four months on Earth and four months on the moon, Morton incorrectly calculated. Granted, "here, he failed to account for the fact that the velocity required for his space-traveling storks to leave Earth's gravitational pull would be some 200 times his calculated top speed, a feat unachievable without the help of NASA's finest rocket boosters bound to the birds' backs," Cooke wrote.

In all, Cooke explores the odd histories of 13 animals: eel, beaver, sloth, hyena, vulture, bat, frog, stork, hippo, moose, panda, penguin and chimpanzee.

These tales include the true-life story of how a psychologist at the University of Oklahoma adopted a chimpanzee to an attempt to raise her like a human, and how Sigmund Freud tried, in vain, to discover the testicles of the eel. Then, she contrasts these stories with new research that's going on today, including researchers who study chimp communication in the primates' native habitat, rather than in a laboratory.

"I'd hope that the book helps us understand animals on their own terms," Cooke told Live Science, "and to appreciate them for what they are and not what we want them to be."

Original article on Live Science.

Laura Geggel

Laura is the archaeology and Life's Little Mysteries editor at Live Science. She also reports on general science, including paleontology. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Scholastic, Popular Science and Spectrum, a site on autism research. She has won multiple awards from the Society of Professional Journalists and the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association for her reporting at a weekly newspaper near Seattle. Laura holds a bachelor's degree in English literature and psychology from Washington University in St. Louis and a master's degree in science writing from NYU.