Burrowing owl

5 common wildlife myths debunked

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This article was originally published in the Fall 2015 issue of Cottage Life magazine.

Some animals have a reputation for doing ridiculous things: a worm cut in two survives as two worms (no); a turkey will drown itself with rainwater (still no); cats steal the breath of babies (seriously? No). These are urban legends, not science. Let’s bust a few myths about our cottagey creatures!

1. Snakes hypnotize their prey

Huh? People question whether even stage hypnotists can successfully do this. Do we really think that snakes can? The real story: Snakes subdue their prey with venom or constriction.

2. Owls rotate their heads 360 degrees

Gah! Only Linda Blair can do that. The real story: Owls can swivel their heads 270 degrees, thanks to a skeletal and blood vessel structure that allows them to twist their necks without causing damage to the arteries that lead to their brains.

3. Toads give you warts

No. Your boyfriend can give you warts. A toad cannot. (Warts are caused by a virus.) The real story: Some toads—including North American species—secrete a chemical from their warty looking bumps, and it can cause a skin rash. Other species secrete hallucinogenic neurotoxins. (Don’t lick any toads, no matter how badly you want to get high. It’s dangerous. And it’s weird for the toad.)

4. Bats drink blood

Well, vampire bats do. But they sure as heck can’t turn anyone into a vampire. They also won’t fly into your hair. The real story: There are three species of vampire bats, and none is native to Canada. They feed on livestock and take only about a tablespoon of blood in one night.

5. Porcupines shoot their quills

Nope. The quills detach when touched. The real story: Thanks to a barbed design, quills do easily penetrate skin (they need about half the amount of force as a hypodermic needle) and are very tough to remove.