Do you know these 5 wildlife myths?

These five cottage-country critters have tales attached—tall tales. It’s time to debunk the wildlife myths that follow them around.

Porcupines shoot their quills
A hundred times false. Of course, porkies do swing their tails in defense, and, as anyone with a dog knows, their detachable quills can become lodged in the snout of whichever predator is after them. And the idea of an animal with a sharp, shootable projectile isn’t completely bonkers. The venomous cone snail, for example, deploys a harpoon-like spear from its body to snag then paralyze its prey. (Don’t worry: unless your dog is diving deep in the waters where cone snails live—nowhere in Canada—they’re not going to get stuck by one.)

Meet the porcupine

You can tell a ladybug’s age from its spots
“No. An adult ladybug is an adult ladybug,” says Bob Anderson, an entomologist at the Canadian Museum of Nature. “A ladybug doesn’t change once it reaches the adult stage.” Ladybugs are beetles; they hatch from an egg as weird, spiny larvae. That’s okay, baby bugs! You’re pretty on the inside. So why the myth? There are hundreds of species of ladybugs in North America, and “they vary in their number of spots,” says Anderson.

If you pick up a toad, it’ll give you warts
Common warts are caused by a strain of the HPV virus. And no amphibian on the planet is giving somebody HPV. But toads have bumpy glands that look like warts, kids like to pick up toads, and kids are more prone to getting actual warts—usually on their hands. So, A + B + C = D. Touching a toad is more problematic for the toad. Amphibians absorb substances through their skin; at the cottage, our hands are often coated with sunscreen or bug spray. And, since about March 2020, massive amounts of hand sanitizer.

An earthworm cut in half becomes two worms
A worm has a head and a tail. If it loses its tail, it is possible for the worm to regenerate a new one (just as some salamanders can regrow their tail if a predator rips it off). But the tail-end of a worm can’t regrow a head or vital organs. This myth could be somewhat connected to the sometimes-truth that earthworms can reproduce solo (parthogenesis). This is correct for certain worms, but they’re usually only species that live in places where it’s hard to find mates. Or, species that aren’t familiar with dating apps, we assume.

The thickness of a woolly bear caterpillar’s black and brown bands can predict the severity of the coming winter
Unlike the weather lore that gets the David Phillips stamp of approval, this one has no merit. “Long-term weather predictions aren’t usually reliable,” he says. But more importantly, this one is stupid. The width of a caterpillar’s bands depends on how long it’s been feeding, its age, and its species.

This story was originally published in the October 2021 issue of Cottage Life, as part of the package “Red sky at night, could be right.”

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