Myth-busters: Wildlife Edition

Wednesday, June 26, 2019
There are many common myths about wildlife that many accept as fact simply for just never being told otherwise! So, I am going to explore and bust some common wildlife myths.

1. Animals that are touched by human beings will be abandoned by their parents

Baby House Finch 
Busted: this is very untrue! Often people use this reasoning when it comes to birds and whether or not you can pick up a baby and put it back in its nest. That is absolutely okay! Most birds can't even smell. It is best that you always keep your distance with wild animals but this will not make a wildlife parent abandon their child! So many species (raccoons, squirrels, birds) are actually amazing parents and just want their baby to be safe and with them!

2. Running into a skunk means you will get sprayed

Busted: Skunks use spraying as a last resort! Once they spray they are left defenseless until their musk can replenish. The real problem with skunks is that they have very poor eyesight! They often don't see you coming until you are too close for comfort. But several warning signs before they will resort to spraying include: stomping their feet, backing up, raising their tail. If they feel they are still in danger after this, then they will resort to spraying.
Your best bet if you know a skunk den is nearby or smell one outside is to talk out loud! A simple "Hey Skunk, I'm coming outside now" gives them a fair warning to move away and they will not be so startled.

3. A Snapping Turtle can bite off my fingers or toes

Snapping Turtles have lots of fleshy parts that are exposed when they are on land and they cannot go inside their shells like other turtles, snapping is their defense mechanism 
Busted: human jaw strength is actually double that of a snapping turtle! Turtles do not even have teeth but rather beaks. Surely it will hurt but you will be okay. A general suggestion is just to never put your fingers near a snapping turtles face. In terms of being worried about them getting your toes while you are swimming- also completely false! Snapping turtles only snap on land because they feel vulnerable, they cannot go inside their shells like other turtles so it is their defense mechanism as they are slower moving on land. However, the water is their domain and they have no natural predators in our lakes. They are more likely to swim in the opposite direction than bother you in the least. Further, Snapping Turtles are scavengers and therefore - lazy hunters! I promise they are not on the prowl for your toes

4. Snakes are poisonous and/or slimy

Busted: snakes are most certainly not slimy, their scales are actually made of keratin, like human fingernails. That means they are even less slimy than human beings as they have no oils on their "skin". Further, there is only one venomous (not poisonous- venom is injected, poison is ingested) snake in Ontario, the Massasauga rattlesnake. Even so, the odds of side effects are minimal and only 2 people in Ontario have died from a bite in history- one of which did not seek any medical treatment. Other snakes such as the (very cute) Hognose snake impersonates the Massasauga to avoid predation.

5. Touching a toad will give you warts

Busted: the "warts" you see on toads actually are there to secrete a bitter, sticky fluid that acts as a deterrent for predators. In no way does it put you at risk of getting warts!

6. My pet turtle can survive outside 

Busted: turtles are a very long term pet and sometimes it seems easier to just release them into the wild. However, most pet turtles are Red-eared Sliders, a species of turtle that is not native to Ontario and are not adapted to survive our winters. In some warmer areas, released (and invasive) Red-eared Sliders have survived the winter and are competing with native turtles. This is also a problem as an introduced species is in some cases displacing a native species. It is best to just consider that a turtle can live an extremely long life (40+ years) and Red Eared Sliders can become the size of a dinner plate, before getting one. Are you going to want to care for that animal in another 40 years?

7. A baby animal found alone has been abandoned by its parents 

Busted: Many species choose to leave their young in safe places so that they will not draw predator attention to them. This is particularly true for prey species such as rabbits or deer. Mother Eastern Cottontail rabbits will leave their young in the nest and only return about 2 times daily to feed for a short period of time. Deer often leave fawns in tall grass for hours at a time and will return to collect them later. As baby skunks develop they may be seen adventuring and playing nearby the den during the day while mom is sleeping. Before assuming that any animal has been orphaned, watch for some time and see if a parent is visiting! Again, most of these species are amazing parents and will always come back to their young.

Something these myths all tend to have in common is that they paint our interactions with wildlife with a negative brush and cultivate fear when we think of these animals! When in reality, they are not out to get us - and vice versa! Most animals, of course, have defence mechanisms to keep themselves safe in dire circumstances but need to be provoked to elicit them. Always give wildlife the space they deserve and we can peacefully coexist. In Ontario, these are all species that you could find in our own backyard on a daily basis.

By understanding our differences we can celebrate them. That is all for today on this round of Myth-Busters: Wildlife Edition.



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