People can't actually breed like rabbits, although in 1726, Mary Toft said that she did.
The 25-year-old English servant claimed that she gave birth to a litter of rabbits (pictured in an illustration), even showing some of the dead animals to her doctor, John Howard. Incredulous, Howard sent letters to the English elite—including King George I—informing them of the apparent miracle.
The story spread like wildfire, making the Toft family 18th-century celebrities, according to the University of Glasgow. Later examinations of the rabbit corpses revealed they could not have come from Toft's womb, and the story was eventually discredited.
"Interest in monstrosities and willingness to pay to see them was common in Europe in the mid-18th century. It is not hard to see why a poor family like the Tofts saw a way to make money with what seems, at first, a ridiculous scheme," according to the university website.
The human-rabbit mother is just one of many animal hoaxes perpetrated over the centuries—especially as April Fools' Day pranks. Click through for more.
A woman examines "A Young Family," a sculpture of a human-like pig and her offspring by Australian artist Patricia Piccinini, at the 50th Venice Biennale of Art in June 2003.
Photographs of the sculpture circulated on the Internet in years afterward with messages suggesting—among other things—that the pictures depicted a human-dog hybrid created by an experiment gone wrong, according to the rumor-squashing website Snopes.com.
As it turns out, there's actually some human in the sculpture—Piccinini used human hair along with silicone, acrylic, leather, and timber as materials for the artwork, according to her website.
Counting sheep became a subject of global importance on April Fools' Day 2007, when a climate-science website announced that global warming is not caused by the buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Rather, an ongoing decline in New Zealand's sheep population (pictured, sheep on South Island) is responsible for warming, RealClimate.org reported.
Scientist Ewe Noh-Watt of the New Zealand Institute of Veterinary Climatology—a fictional agency—told RealClimate.org that the country's once large numbers of white sheep contributed to the planet's albedo by reflecting sunlight back into space, according to the Museum of Hoaxes website. Without vast herds of reflective sheep, the sunlight would stay trapped in Earth's atmosphere.
Even worse, Noh-Watt said, the sheep decline could lead to a destabilizing feedback mechanism: "As climate gets warmer, there is less demand for wool sweaters and woolly underwear," RealClimate.org reported.
"Hence the sheep population tends to drop, leading to even more warming. In an extreme form, this can lead to a 'runaway sheep-albedo feedback,' which is believed to have led to the present torrid climate of Venus."
But the beast kept a low profile until 1933, when a new road made the loch more accessible and gave clear views from its northern shore. A flood of reported sightings soon followed, the first coming from an innkeeper at Drumnadrochit.
That same year saw the publication of the most famous picture of Nessie, with its neck and head rising from the loch's murky waters (pictured). Taken by a respected gynecologist, Colonel Robert Wilson, the monster became an overnight sensation.
In 1994 Wilson's photograph made the front pages again—when an associate of Wilson's named Christian Spurling confessed shortly before his death that the grainy, black-and-white image actually showed a piece of plastic attached to a toy submarine.
The "perfect pet" became the perfect April Fools' Day prank in 1984, when the Orlando Sentinel ran a story extolling the merits of the "Tasmanian mock walrus"—including a picture that actually featured a naked mole rat (pictured).
According to the paper, the four-inch-long (ten-centimeter-long) creature resembled a walrus, purred like a cat, and was as tractable as a hamster, the Museum of Hoaxes website said. This ideal pet—which had supposedly been smuggled in from Tasmania, an island state of Australia—also never needed to be bathed, used a litter box, and munched on cockroaches.
Dozens of people called the Sentinel seeking to get their own Tasmanian companion, according to the museum's website. Unfortunately, real-life naked mole rats don't live up to the newspaper's hype.
Tom Biscardi, CEO and founder of BIGFOOT Inc., displays a photograph he claimed was of Bigfoot's mouth during a press conference in Palo Alto, California, on August 15, 2008.
Alas, no evidence ever emerged to support the supposed Bigfoot discovery, first brought forward by two men who said they found the corpse of a seven-foot-tall (two-meter-tall) apelike creature in the woods of northern Georgia.
Critics declared the men's story a bold hoax after the pair refused to show the body and following the disclosure that genetic tests from the alleged remains revealed only human and opossum DNA, National Geographic News reported in 2008.
Photograph by Kimberly White, Reuters
Killer Bee Attack
Operation Killer Bees generated quite a buzz as an April Fools' Day prank in 1994, when residents of Glendale and Peoria, Arizona, found yellow fliers in their neighborhoods warning them of a killer bee attack in progress.
The posters told people to stay indoors while widespread aerial spraying attempted to slay a marauding killer bee population, according to the Museum of Hoaxes website. The bottom of the flier also listed an official government agency, the Arizona Pest Removal Information Line (For Outside Operations Listings)—or APRIL FOOL.
However, "few people got the joke," which was perpetrated by "freelance pranksters," according to the website. Many anxious people called radio and TV stations and locked themselves indoors all day.
There is a real-life "killer" bee, the aggressive African subspecies of honeybee known as Apis mellifera scutellata (pictured), which was introduced to Brazil in 1956. The insects—which have since killed at least a thousand people—deliver ten times as many stings to their victims as do European honeybees, according to Columbia University.
The African bees have since migrated as far south as Argentina and as far north as California.