Can you recognize a wildlife myth when you hear one? Some are simply strange, while others cause animal suffering. “Myths can perpetuate negative stereotypes and disseminate harmful advice,” says Meghann Cant, animal welfare educator for the BC SPCA. “Even the most innocuous ones are hurtful on some level because they prevent us from truly understanding wildlife.”
Myth: Fawns found alone should be rescued. Fact: For a few weeks after giving birth, a doe stays away from her fawn on purpose to avoid attracting predators. She keeps her fawn hidden and may only return a few times a day to nurse. Mistakenly rescuing the young deer could be considered “fawn-napping”!
Myth: Moles destroy lawns. Fact: Mole holes may be unsightly, but lawns can actually benefit from mole activity. Moles provide insect control by feeding on underground larvae which can cause other forms of damage to the lawn. Tunneling also aerates the soil and can improve lawn health over time. Also, the mole holes make a natural putting range!
Myth: Baby birds cannot be returned to their nest once you have touched them. Fact: Baby birds carrying human scent are not automatically rejected by their parents. Not only do most birds have a poor sense of smell, they also make very committed parents not readily deterred by human interference.
Myth: Opossums can hang upside down by their tails. Fact: Opossums have a long, scaly tail which acts as an extra limb. Though well adapted for grasping tree branches, their tail is rarely used for hanging upside down – and definitely not for sleeping in this position!
Myth: Seeing a raccoon out during the day means the animal has rabies. Fact: Raccoons are typically nocturnal, coming out at night to forage for food. However, healthy raccoons can also be active during the day when they are competing for food, nursing young or have been excluded from their den.
Myth: Cats who only play with their prey are not doing much harm. Fact: Animals who escape from a cat are still at risk of dying. Cats carry harmful bacteria on their teeth and claws, so even a tiny puncture wound or scratch can lead to life-threatening infection. Cats can also cause serious internal injuries such as hemorrhaging. Animals who have been pawed at or picked up by a cat should be taken to a wildlife rehabilitator for assessment and treatment – even when there are no obvious injuries.
Myth: Porcupines can throw their quills. Fact: When threatened, porcupines erect their quills and lash their tail. Although quills can detach from their body and tail and embed themselves into almost anything – or anyone! – direct contact is required.
Myth: You should attempt to feed an orphaned animal you have rescued. Fact: Feeding orphaned animals can actually do more harm than good. Babies require special diets and specific feeding methods – and only after they have been assessed by a wildlife rehabilitator.
Myth: Woodpeckers kill trees. Fact: Actually, woodpeckers can help to maintain tree health by feeding on wood-boring insects. Significant tree damage by woodpeckers is more likely the result of a heavy insect infestation that would kill the tree regardless of woodpecker activity.
Myth: Bats like to fly into human hair. Fact: Insectivorous bats may swoop down towards your head – not to get tangled in your hair but to feed on the insects hovering above you!
Photo credits: Porcupine - Michael Hewitt; Woodpeckers - Al Crawford
The British Columbia Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals is a not-for-profit organization reliant on public donations. Our mission is to protect and enhance the quality of life for domestic, farm and wild animals in B.C.