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Nature Watch: Don’t be fooled by pranks

Each year at this time, instead of trying to fool readers I have described past scientific hoaxes: Piltdown Man, the Loch Ness Monster, Uri Geller and, closer to home, the Fox Sisters and the Cardiff Giant. This way, instead of being taken in, you can feel superior to those who are fooled by this nonsense. But beware: We all harbor a strain of gullibility.

I have now come across the Museum of Hoaxes. Although the museum’s claimed physical location in San Diego is itself a hoax, it does boast a delightful website at I have drawn from that site’s “Top 100 April Fool Hoaxes of all Time” a few of those pranks.

In a radio broadcast it was disclosed that Dutch Elm Disease caused redheads’ hair to fall out. They were advised to stay away from forests for the foreseeable future.

The Orlando Sentinel featured a story about the newly imported, 4-inch-long Tasmanian mock walruses, which made wonderful pets. They purred like a cat, used litter boxes and ate cockroaches. The pest-control industry was said to oppose the spread of these animals because they would eliminate part of their business. The newspaper switchboard was flooded with calls to find out how to obtain one.

A London radio station announced a government plan to resynchronize the British calendar. It had gradually become 48 hours ahead of other countries due to daylight saving time. In response, April 5 and 12 would be omitted that year. One caller wanted to know what would happen to the birthday she would lose.

A widespread Internet message announced that the entire system would be shut down for cleaning from March 31 to April 2. Old email and websites would be purged by Japanese-built Toshiba robots.

A German radio station announced that Cologne officials had introduced a temporary regulation: city park joggers would be restricted to 6 mph during the squirrel mating season in order not to disturb the animals. posted information about the work of a New Zealand scientist, who said that global warming was caused by the decline in sheep population. White sheep reflect heat back into the atmosphere and, with their numbers decreasing, that heat was reaching the ground.

A professor announced on TV his newly developed “smellovision,” which conveyed odors. To show how it worked he cut onions and brewed coffee. Many called in to confirm his demonstration, saying it was “like being right there in the studio.”

In 1878, a year after Thomas Edison invented the phonograph, the New York Graphic announced that he had invented a machine that could transform dirt into cereal and water into wine. One of the newspapers that picked up this announcement was the Buffalo Commercial Advertiser, which published a laudatory editorial.

Burger King announced in a full-page ad in USA Today on April 1, 1998, the introduction of a left-handed Whopper, specially designed for lefties. The new Whopper included the same ingredients as the original, but the condiments were rotated 180 degrees. Thousands requested the new sandwich while many others requested the right-handed version.