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Walk Softly – Don’t “myth” out on this one

by Geoffrey Carpentier

I thought it might be fun to continue to explore some popular misconceptions about animals and the environment. Is it fact or fiction? Myth or the truth?

Myth: You can charm a snake with music. Snake charming is a widely publicized and fascinating pastime which looks like the charmer has the snake under his or her spell. The music plays and the charmer moves slowly back and forth in front of the mesmerized snake. But is the snake really entranced by the music or is it something else? The simple answer is, snakes are actually deaf and so can’t hear the music. The music is for our benefit but the snake responds to the slow rhythmic movements of the snake charmer. And speaking of snakes, do you think you can tell the age of a rattlesnake by counting its rattles? Well maybe occasionally, but it is never a fool proof mechanism. The rattle of a rattlesnake is actually rings of keratin which form on the tail of the snake. In some cases, the rings are generated annually, but usually they are created more than once a year. Also, snakes can lose their entire rattle if an encounter with a predator occurs this becomes a very unreliable age determiner.

Myth: Anteaters inhale their prey. Nope. Anteaters do eat a lot of ants and termites, about 25,000 per day, but they essentially lap up the insects and then swallow them. Most anteaters visit up to 200 ant nests per night, but the ants don’t like the intrusion and inflict many stings on the anteaters. Anteaters also don’t just eat ants and termites; they also feast on turtles, lizards, scorpions and even snakes and supplement that with fruits and other plants for months at a time, if ant supplies are not available.

Myth: Giraffes only sleep for minutes a day. False. It has been reported a giraffe has to stay alert so it only sleeps for half an hour a day. According to one study it was determined, while giraffes don’t sleep for long periods of time, they do catch about 4.5 hours of snooze time a day, sometimes even tossing in a quick nap. Assuredly they are light sleepers, as lions hunt at night so this becomes a very dangerous time to fall into a deep sleep.

Myth: Do ostriches really bury their heads in the sand? Well this myth arose since ostriches do spend a lot of time during the breeding season caring for their eggs which are essentially laid on the dusty ground. The parents will turn the eggs several times per day so it may look like their head is underground. Additionally, they will try to trick predators by flopping on the ground as if they are injured which again raises dust and may look like the head is buried.

Myth: Lemmings commit mass suicides as they jump off cliffs. Well this one is also false and we can blame Walt Disney for this urban tale. In the 1958 documentary White Wilderness, the narrator of the film, tells the audience, “It’s said this tiny animal commits mass suicide by rushing into the sea in droves.” The narrator tries to convince us this is a natural occurrence which the small mammals undertake to control their own population. Truth is the film-makers brought hundreds of lemmings to Alberta, Canada, and then herded them off a cliff into a river – wow! Wouldn’t be doing that today.

Truth: Crocodiles tears are real. In literature, crocodile tears are touted as a sign of insincere emotion or turmoil. This is a tricky one, since crocodiles actually do shed tears but not because they’re sad. Several theories to explain this have been put forward. One has to do with a simple biological response. When a crocodile is out of the water for an extended period of time, its eyes dry out and it has to lubricate them, hence the tears. The word crocodile by the way is derived from the Greek word ‘krokodilos’, which means “to tear, to tear up.” Stay tuned – more to come.

Geoff Carpentier is a published author, expedition guide and environmental consultant. Visit Geoff on-line on LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram.

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