The tradition of telling stories around the campfire can lead to exaggerated and sometimes false beliefs about wildlife. Anecdotal experiences can cause cottagers and campers to take unnecessary precautions and even make poor choices while spending time in the woods. That’s why we’ve put together this handy, myth-busting guide that’s sure to improve your relationship with nature.
Myth: Porcupines can shoot their quills
Fact: A porcupine’s needle-like quills typically lie flat—rising to attention when the rodent feels threatened. A single porcupine can have more than 30,000 quills, which can grow back after shedding. Though the quills can easily detach and pierce the flesh of predators that come in contact with them, a porcupine cannot throw its quills to attack.
Myth: It’s dangerous for women to be around bears while menstruating
Fact: The belief that menstruating women are more prone to bear attacks was popularized after two women were killed by grizzly bears on the same night in August 1967 in Montana’s Glacier National Park. But a recent paper released by a bear specialist with the National Park Service detailed that several studies show there is no evidence that black bears or grizzly bears are attracted to menstrual blood. In Yellowstone National Park in particular, there were 32 bear attacks between 1980 and 2002—involving 25 men and 7 women—with no link to menstruation. Still, there is some evidence that polar bears are attracted to odors associated with menstrual blood.
Myth: Birds will abandon their young if touched by humans
Fact: The myth that birds will abandon their chicks if handled by a human is rooted in the belief that birds can smell the human touch on their young, but birds actually have a poor sense of smell. Birds bonds with their chicks after the time they spend building a nest, incubating the eggs and feeding the young hatchlings. If you see a small ball of feathers that appears to be struggling on the ground, it is likely just learning how to fly, and is best left alone to learn how to survive in the wild.
Myth: Fawns found alone need to be rescued
Fact: It’s common for does to leave fawns alone. A doe will return every few hours to check on her young but will steer clear if there are humans nearby. The colouring of a fawn camouflages it from predators but do-gooder humans who get to close can draw attention to its nesting spot, putting the fawn in danger of detection. The Wildlife Rescue League recommends calling a hotline for help only if the fawn has been alone for more than 12 hours.
Myth: Skunks immediately spray if you get too close
Fact: Skunks are mild-tempered and have a limited supply of their gag-inducing musk, so they save it for the most serious threats. Before launching a defensive attack, a skunk will try to warn away predators by stomping its front feet or raising its tail. If a skunk seems threatened by you, the best thing to do is back away slowly. A skunk can spray its musk 12 feet on a still day—sometimes further if the wind is blowing in its favour—so it’s wise not to provoke it.
Myth: Mosquitoes find some humans tastier than others
Fact: If you end a day of hiking in the woods covered in itchy, red welts while your friend’s skin remains pristine, it may seem logical to deduce that your blood is simply more attractive to mosquitoes. But what mosquitoes are actually drawn to is heat and carbon dioxide. Mosquitoes see heat with their antennae, which makes larger people a greater target. Smaller people are not immune to a mosquito’s radar, though, especially the energetic and fidgety type that might emanate more heat.
Myth: Bats are blind
Fact: The belief that bats are blind might lead someone to think they’re prone to fly right into you and get tangled in your hair. That’s simply not true. Not only can bats see, but they also use a system called echolocation to navigate, and even hunt prey, in the dark. Bats emit high-frequency clicks and rely on the echoes to build a map of their surroundings.