Look Before You Leap

-- by Craig Olsen

One of the hallmarks of skepticism is caution in accepting new information. Recently a friend of mine learned the hard way. Dave (not his real name) was teaching a class on wildlife sampling techniques at my place of employment. He was a fountain of knowledge and I was grateful to learn new information and to be reacquainted with facts I had not encountered since college. As his lecture wound down he shared a startling story. Dave said that the latest issue of Discover had a feature on "hotheaded naked ice borers." They were claimed to be a new species found in Antarctica which melted the ice under penguins and then attacked them with their sharp teeth. They were supposed to be able to accomplish this feat by gathering in clusters and then melting the ice via a bony forehead plate which contained numerous blood vessels.

Everyone was abuzz at the prospect of hairless penguin chewers in Antarctica! Dave indicated some doubt about the claim initially, but as he related more of the claim he seemed to convince himself of its validity. My first reaction was to accept the claim because, as a professional naturalist, I know of numerous examples of nature's oddballs. Once I started thinking about it I had reservations. I mean, a naked animal in Antarctica? That does not seem like a good adaptation for that type of environment! Other nagging questions rose in my mind. It just did not seem right!

Shortly after class broke up the answer to the mystery came when I retrieved our mail. It happened to have the Discover issue with the article in question. The first two words in the article caught my eye immediately. They were Aprile Pazzo. This was supposed to be the name of the researcher involved but I knew the jig was up! Aprile obviously meant the month of April. Although I know little Italian, I knew the word pazzo translates as crazy or fool. APRIL FOOL! I pointed this out to Dave who graciously accepted his gaffe. He will certainly be more cautious in the future!

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