By John Carey
Wild animals have captured our imaginations for generations. Some animals, like mice, monkeys, and tortoises, have become beloved characters in children’s books like ‘Stuart Little,’ ‘Curious George,’ and ‘The Tortoise and the Hare.’
Other animals, like snakes, spiders, and bats, have become the villains, destined to symbolize Halloween and the macabre.
This Halloween why not brush up on some wildlife fun facts and help clear up some of these wildlife urban legends? Below, I highlight a few of the most common myths about “spooky” animals.
Wildlife Myth No. 1 – Snakes chase people.
Few animals are the victims of fear quite like the snake. Fear can turn the 2-foot-long rat snake crossing a driveway into a 7-foot-long copperhead ready to strike. Fear also helped inspire the common myth that snakes, especially cottonmouths, are aggressive or territorial creatures that chase people.
Fortunately, this isn’t true. Because snakes often become the prey of much larger animals, they are primed to hide when they sense a human approaching.
When snakes appear to chase someone, there’s usually another explanation. For example, many snakes hunt along Spring Creek. When an angler catches a fish, a hungry snake may take advantage of its prey’s confusion and attempt to swallow the fish before it gets to shore. Unfortunately, the angler ends up reeling in an unhappy snake.
If a snake swims too far from shore, it may try to hitch a ride on the back of someone’s boat. While the snake may be struggling to survive, to the outside observer, it may appear to chase the boat territorially.
When it comes to snakes, the best rule to follow is to ignore them, and they will most likely return the favor.
Wildlife Myth No. 2 – If a daddy long-legs had longer fangs, it would be one of the deadliest spiders in the world.
This is a myth I often heard as a child. Interestingly, it turns out that the opposite is true. Although daddy long-legs can bite, they lack venom glands, so their bite is harmless. It’s also a misconception that they are true spiders, although they are in the arachnid family.
Wildlife Myth No. 3 – Bats are blind.
If you’ve grown up hearing the simile “blind as a bat,” it’s understandable that you may believe that bats rely on echolocation because they have poor eyesight. It turns out, bats have incredible vision. Even without using echolocation, they can effectively navigate the world at night.
In decades past, parents used to deter their daughters from staying out late by telling them that bats would fly into their hair and get stuck. Although this threat may be an effective tactic for enforcing curfews, it has no truth to it.
People also fear bats because of their potential for spreading rabies. Although bats can become infected, contracting an infection from them is rare, especially for those who avoid physical contact.
Unfortunately, some of these myths overshadow the benefits of bats. Areas with healthy bat populations may experience fewer mosquitoes and harmful insects. A single bat can eat nearly its body weight in insects every night!
Don’t let your imagination get the best of you
There is no shortage of misconceptions when it comes to wildlife, and the creepy crawlies of the animal world tend to get the worst of it. It’s fine to celebrate scary things on Halloween, but we should remember that some of the stories we hear aren’t true.
To learn more about our creepy crawly friends, visit Jesse H. Jones Park & Nature Center to speak with a staff naturalist.