Correcting some falsehoods about Missouri animals

“Don’t believe everything you hear,” a phrase usually used for stories about humans, can also be applied to some animal anecdotes.

To be clear – there are many animals that have truly amazing traits which make for remarkable aspects of their lives. 

However, thanks to centuries of tale-telling, some of these characteristics have been fabricated, others have been misunderstood, and a few have just been plain old made up.

What follows are a few falsehoods and some other not-exactly-true traits that have become linked to animals that are seen in Missouri all or at least part of the year.

• Belief — Human touch leaves a scent on a baby bird that may cause the mother to abandon it. Not true. 

Most birds have a poor sense of smell and couldn’t detect human scent on their young. However, that doesn’t give us the green light to cuddle every baby bird we find in spring. 

Young birds can have mites that they could pass on to human handlers, and excessive disturbance of young may cause a parental bird to abandon her brood and try another nesting attempt in a safer place. 

If cats or other dangers can’t be kept away from a young flightless bird you find, move it quickly to a safer location (in the same area where it was found), then let bird parental care continue.

• Belief — Daddy longlegs deliver a venomous bite. Another big nope. These arachnids, also called harvestmen, do not have venom and their mouth parts aren’t strong enough to break human skin. 

Much of the “biting” they do is actually beneficial to humans – they feed on decomposing plant and animal matter and prey on several types of invertebrates, including aphids that can be garden and crop pests.

• Belief — Owls can turn their heads in a complete circle. Owls cannot turn their heads in a 360-degree circle, but the truth behind this myth is still remarkable. 

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