by Geoffrey Carpentier
I've been having some fun with a series of articles dealing with myths about wildlife, and I'd like to share one more column before I move on to new topics.
Last time, we talked about crocodile tears, so now I wonder, do snakes cry? Short answer: no, they don't. The eyes of snakes are complex and set well back on the head. Snakes don't have tear ducts and can't shed tears. Instead, their eyes are protected by a thin layer of skin called the stratum corneum, which protects them from the sun's harmful ultraviolet rays. The eyes are also protected by the cornea, a transparent layer which protects the retina from damage caused by ultraviolet light.
Well, this is an easy one: Myth: all ducks can fly. Actually, no, this is incorrect. First of all, most ducks undergo a complete moult of their flight feathers in the summer and simply can't fly for a period of weeks, but this is only temporary. There is, however, a family of ducks in the southern hemisphere called steamerducks, there are four species, and only one can fly. The other three species have developed, so their flight feathers and wings are vestigial, meaning they don't function to provide enough lift to help the bird fly.
Myth: If you cut a worm in half, it will survive and become two worms. Well, we've all cut worms in half when gardening or fishing. It seems logical since a worm looks the same at both ends; either end could regenerate the body, but not so. Worms have a distinct head and tail, so cutting off the tail means that end will assuredly die. The other end, however, may regenerate a new tail and survive the ordeal.
Myth: Bulls get angry when they see the colour red. Well, this is an easy one, bulls are colour-blind to red and green, so this has no basis whatsoever, in fact. The annoyance for bulls isn't colour but rather the cape's movement. The red cape arose since, in days past, the bulls were killed in the 'fights,' and this helped mask the blood from the public's eye. And speaking of colour.
Myth: Cats, dogs and their allies are colour-blind. Again, the answer is no. Cats' and dogs' eyesight is much better than we thought. Both can see shades of blue and green. In fact, cats have way more light-sensing cells or rods in their eyes than humans do, which is why they can see better in low-light situations. Dogs, on the other hand, have colour sensitivity only 14 percent as good as ours, so they live in a world without greens or reds.
Myth: Octopuses are not intelligent. The octopus is a strange creature which can reshape itself. To some, it seems to be just a blob of organic stuff with little structure or skeletal support. But it is apparently a brilliant and superb problem-solver and hunter. Its kin, the squid, the cuttlefish and other cephalopods, are equally intelligent. A couple of online stories help demonstrate how brilliant these animals are. One involves an octopus called the mimic octopus, which can reshape itself to look like a flatfish or sea snake simply by remembering what these other animals look like. The other story is about Inky, a New Zealand octopus which escaped an aquarium via a drainage tube which led back to the sea. It was used as the basis for the octopus's escape from captivity in Finding Dory.
Myth: Do goatsuckers suck goats? What? Okay, a goatsucker is a general name for many night birds, known as nighthawks or whip-poor-wills and their kin. It was long believed these birds would fly into farmer's livestock pens at night and suck the milk from the teats of goats and cows. Not so! They were, in fact, attracted to these sites by large numbers of insects attracted to the manure piles and livestock. Another myth dispelled.
Okay, I hope you liked this series of whimsical articles.
Geoff Carpentier is a published author, expedition guide and environmental consultant. Visit Geoff on-line on LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram.