Dispelling Wildlife Myths- Halloween Edition

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With Halloween right around the corner, I thought it the perfect time to address some common misunderstandings about wildlife.  We have all heard them.  Whether they are called myths or Old Wives Tales most false accusations conjure up fear that sometimes result in the persecution and death of many innocent species.

How many times have you heard someone say that toads give people warts?  I myself have been told this on more occasions then I care to remember.  The idea that touching or just looking at a toad can cause a skin malady is simply not true.  Although some species, for example the Cane toad, do have the ability to secrete toxins from either enlarged glands or through pores in their skin, such compounds need to be ingested before they have any ill health effects.  Let me add that if ingestion of such secretions does occur, warts will be the least of your worries.  I think that this tall tale may have been started as a deterrent from an overzealous mother who did not want her children to handle such creatures.

It always amazes me when I see someone touch a reptile for the first time and hear them exclaim, “Wow, they aren’t slimy at all.”  Contrary to popular belief, reptiles, especially snakes, are not slimy.  I think the confusion comes from the fact that amphibians have wet skin that aids in respiration.  Since most people do not know that reptiles and amphibians belong to completely different classes of Scientific Taxonomy they expect both to feel similar.  Furthermore, venomous reptiles do not live with the sole purpose to chase and bite people.  Reptiles, like most wild animals, will avoid humans at all costs.  Most envenomations occur when snakes are accidentally stood upon or picked up.

Thanks to Hollywood, bats have the reputation for being heartless blood drinkers.  It will surprise most to know that of the 1,240 species of bats only 3 get their sustenance from hematophagia.  Yes, you heard me correct, only 3 species.  The common, hairy-legged, and white-winged vampire bats can be found from Mexico to Brazil, Chile, and Argentina.  So to answer your next question, there are no native vampire bats in Transylvania.  In addition, globally, only 0.5% of bats carry rabies.  Since bats hunt with echolocation a virus that affects the central nervous system renders them disoriented and unable to fly; thus, human contact with an infected bat is uncommon.

It is nearly impossible to visit a retail store around this time a year and not see a hairy black spider as part of the All Hallows Eve decoration.  Arachnophobia is one of the most common fears in humans.  Perhaps this is why the spider is a popular item found among the holiday décor.   However, one does not have to suffer from a full on phobia to simply be afraid of the misunderstood spider.  To date, over 40,000 species of spider has been identified on every continent except Antarctica, with the oldest known arachnid dating back 420 million years.  Despite such widespread hatred of these creatures, spiders are very beneficial.  A fair few are equipped with venom potent enough to cause sickness and even death in humans, but only 100 deaths were reported in the 20th century.  Spiders are far more valuable to humans as they control insect populations, are they themselves a menu item in some parts of the world, and whose venom has a number of pharmaceutical benefits treating such ailments as cardiac arrhythmia, strokes, and symptoms in Alzheimer’s patients.

I suppose one could write for days to dispel the myths about wildlife.  The important thing to remember is that wild creatures, vertebrates or invertebrates, are just as afraid of humans as we are of them.  Far more wildlife is killed every year out of ignorance and fear by humans then humans killed from frightened animals.   Happy Halloween!

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