Tag Archives: myths

What do you Know about Spiders? Test Your Spider IQ

spider-9275Are you one of the many people afraid of spiders? Do you cringe when you see one or run the other way? Have nightmares about them?… or, do you LIKE spiders?

In the two weeks that my nieces and nephew were here this summer, we spent a lot of time outside. I learned early on that both girls were afraid of spiders and so I did my best in my short time with them to teach them about spiders, though I have to say that even at their young ages–9 and 13, a lot of “knowledge” has already been accumulated and it was difficult to convince them that I was right and what they knew was wrong.

If their Mom or Dad said so, then surely it HAD to be true. Same of their teachers at school. 

As their Aunt–and one who lives far away– I fall low on the list of people to believe. How could what I say be different from what they have already learned! How could these trusted adults in their lives be wrong!?

People LEARN to be afraid of spiders

People LEARN to be afraid of spiders

People aren’t born afraid of things, they learn to be afraid–from other people, from TV shows, movies, videos etc. I am sure a huge part of fear comes from watching how others react. If your parents are afraid of spiders, snakes, bats and other animals, so too in most cases will be the kids. As a child I too was afraid of these things, mostly from watching how my Mom reacted to them–to say she was terrified of snakes, and likely spiders too, is not an exaggeration.

Luckily I have changed since then and no longer fear these fascinating animals. I am proof people can change! (Read more about overcoming a fear of spiders)

When asked to elaborate on what I do or what my mission is, I often say I am a Nature Photographer, Naturalist, Writer, Teacher, Lover of all things wild, and unofficial Spokeswoman for bats, spiders, snakes, and other creatures Hollywood has convinced us to fear. There are SO MANY myths out there surrounding some of our common animals. And it really is too bad because the results are needless fear and persecution.

sc2-4385And so, in thinking about this, I decided it would be fun to do a short quiz on spiders, just to see if what you know is fact or fiction. Years ago I did a post on this but I realize that many of you are new subscribers and likely did not read that post. So here it is! Click on each one to see the correct answer.

True or False:

  1. All spiders are poisonous.
  2. Spiders are hard to identify and to figure out the species, a microscope is required.
  3. Spiders don’t eat their prey, they “suck” the juices from it.
  4. Spiders are insects.
  5. All spiders make silken webs to catch their prey.
  6. Spider bites are uncommon.
  7. Tarantulas are not the deadly creatures Hollywood makes them out to be.
  8. Black widow females always kill and eat their mates.
  9. Brown recluses are common throughout the United States and are easily identifiable by the violin on their carapace.
  10. Medical professionals can easily identify spider bites by twin punctures and from the symptoms described by their patient.

How did you do?

If you are in a hurry and don’t have time to read all of the answers, but want to know how you did, Click HERE for the quick version with NO explanation of the answers.

Posted in Animals, Insects, Spiders and other Invertebrates, Myth Busters | Also tagged , , , 1 Comment

10 Things You Might Not Know about Wild Turkeys

Happy Thanksgiving friends!!

I hope you are enjoying your day surrounded by friends and family, sharing some good food and drink along with lots of laughs. I hope too that you have much to be thankful for and that you will take time during the busy holiday season to appreciate the beauty of nature.

Thank YOU for reading and subscribing to my blog posts and giving me a reason to write. I am thankful for all of you and hope you will let me know if there is a subject I can cover for you in future posts.

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In honor of Thanksgiving, I thought I would revisit this post I published a while back about turkeys–only I have added a lot more pictures and information. What do you know about these big birds?  For instance how can you tell a male from a female? What in the heck is a snood–and more importantly, does snood size matter? Can turkeys fly? What do they eat? What can you learn from the shape of their poop?

Here are 10 things you might not know about Wild Turkeys:

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1. Despite a myth that says otherwise, wild turkeys CAN fly. Weighing from 5-20 pounds, they have been clocked for short bursts as fast as 55 mph. Also, they can glide without flapping their wings for almost a mile! Their domestic counterparts however cannot fly because they are so fat and heavy.

2. Turkeys can blush when they are frightened, ill or agitated and they have a lot cranial accessories. Their head and neck can turn red, white and blue. When it is mating season, male turkeys become more colorful. They have a flap of skin under their chin, called a wattle that turns bright red. They also have a flap of skin hanging over their beak, called a snood. This, along with their wattle becomes engorged and swollen when they are sexually excited. Both males and females have wattles and caruncles, but in the male, these are larger and more colorful.

Studies have shown that in turkeys, Size DOES matter–that is, females prefer males with longer and larger snoods. Also, males wih bigger snoods are actually healthier.

Here is a picture of a turkey, labeled: (Notice the difference in the snood size between this and the picture below.)

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snood2-

Notice this guy's long snood

A side angle showing his snood…. (Don’t you wonder if that thing doesn’t get in his way?)

3. Turkeys spend the night roosting in trees. This keeps them safe from predators like coyotes, fox, and bobcats.

4. Wild turkeys have 5,000-6,000 feathers! Male turkeys have 18 tail feathers that make up their impressive fan, which they will open and spread out during mating season.If the feathers in the tail fan aren’t all the same length, you can tell this is an immature male.

Turkey tail

5. Turkeys have fabulous vision and see in color. Their eyes are on the sides of their heads, giving them periscopic vision that is super useful in seeing predators. They are thought to see about 3 times better than humans. They can see an amazing 270 degree field of view.They do however, have poor night vision.

aturk-0376. Male turkeys gobble to attract a mate and their gobbles can be heard up to a mile away.  What’s amazing about this is that turkeys do not have external ears. Female turkeys do not usually gobble, but do make other sounds such as chucks and chirp-like noises.

Check out this male turkey courting this female in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. She is not all that interested, but it doesn’t matter much to him–he keeps at it, puffing up his chest and trying to get her attention. Also, notice that she has a beard (WHAT! Did you say she has a beard? Yes!)…more about this later.

7. Female turkeys build their nests on the ground, covering their 12-18 spotted eggs with leaves when they are off in search of food. aturk-2-2Females hide their nest locations from the males and do all of the work by themselves in raising the chicks. For the first two weeks, the chicks, or poults as they are called, cannot fly, so mom will roost on the ground with them during this time. The poults will stay with their mothers for a year. (In the photo with the trees there is a turkey nest at the base of the right-most tree)aturk-2

8. Male turkeys are called gobblers, or toms, while females are called hens. Adolescent males are called jakes and adolescent females are called jennies. Males have what’s called a “beard” which is a bunch of hair hanging from their chest. Interestingly, up to 20% of females also have a beard, so using this as the only way to tell the sexes apart is not reliable. (And females with beards or spurs CAN breed and lay eggs though myths are prevalent that suggest otherwise.) Beards of males get longer as the turkey gets older. At one year, the male’s beard is 3-5 inches, at 2 years it grows to 7-9 inches and then after 3 it can be longer than 9 inches, but it is often worn off because it drags on the ground when the males feed. Also, after 3 years, the beard becomes black tipped rather than amber tipped.

Here is a turkey beard... and check out the iridescent feathers!

Here is a turkey beard… and check out the iridescent feathers!

9. Turkeys spend most of their lives on the ground. They are omnivores, feeding on a variety of foods including seeds, acorns, berries, nuts and insects like crickets and grasshoppers. If you ever get a chance to watch a flock in a field, you can see them snagging insects in the grass as a child would grab at pieces of candy.

A j-shaped scat indicates it's from a male

A j-shaped scat indicates it’s from a male

10. You can tell the sex of a turkey by the shape of its scat. (poop) Females produce spiral shaped poop while the shape of a male’s poop is the letter J. (Just imagine how useful this fact might be at some point in life…. Thanksgiving trivia anyone?….)

Here’s how to tell a male from a female turkey:

Males have:

  • metallic looking feathers
  • breast feathers that are black tipped
  • a spur on each leg (spurs are used to spar with other males) As the turkey gets older, the spur gets larger. It is hard to see the spurs on juvenile males.
  • more colorful heads, no feathers on their heads
  • beards up to 12 inches long
  • big feet–greater than 4.5 inches
  • snoods and wattles that become engorged and swollen when they are sexually excited

Females:

  • duller, light brown feathers
  • breast feathers are buff tipped rather than black
  •  Spurs are not typical (once in a while a female can have spurs, but they are shorter than 1/2 inch)
  • Light blue heads
  • usually do not have a beard (some do, and if they do, the beards are sparse-looking and not very long)
  • smaller foot–less than 4.5 inches
Look at the difference between female and male

Look at the difference between female and male

Notice the spur on this leg

Notice the spur on this leg

11.The average life span of a wild turkey is 3-5 years. Domestic turkeys in comparison live only a few months as these are raised to be fat and juicy–fed a protein-rich diet of corn and soybeans. And you know those few turkeys that the President of the Untied States issues a “pardon” to every year at this time? Well it’s not like they can be set free in the wild–they are way too fat and would not likely last a day. These pardoned turkeys are sent to Virginia where they live usually live a short time. The oldest wild turkey on record lived 13 years. Here’s an interesting article that goes more into depth about those Presidential pardons.

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And just as a bonus since it is Thanksgiving, Americans consume about 46 million turkeys on this holiday, which is more than Easter and Christmas combined.

Are you among the 46 million who eat turkey on Thanksgiving?Have you seen turkeys in the wild? What is your favorite part about Thanksgiving?

Turkeys are common in our backyard

Turkeys are common in our backyard

…As always, I would love to hear from you! Use the comment box below to drop me a note.

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Posted in Animals, Birds, Did you know..., Weekly Creature Feature | Also tagged , , , , 1 Comment

Weekly Puzzler Answer #87

Last week’s puzzler was about the famous Black Widow spider, asking if females always eat their mates. Did you have a guess? The answer is:

NO, Black widow females do not always eat their mates. spidd4-007

In the United States, there are three species of black widow, two in the east and one in the west. Of those, only one of the species of black widow (one living in the east) has ever been observed eating the male after mating. The other two species have NEVER been observed doing this, and furthermore, the ones that were observed were often in captivity where the male could not truly get away. In the wild after mating, the male will usually live to see another day.

Another myth–busted!

To read more about spider myths, click HERE or for the next puzzler, click HERE.

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Weekly Puzzler #87

I almost used in honor of Halloween, but chose the bat puzzler instead. But check out this photo of a spider. Do you recognize it?

I bet you know it is a black widow spider. I took it in a small town in Colorado called Nederland. Years ago I worked at a nature center there and one day a woman brought it in, having found it in her yard. She didn’t want it there, but neither did she want to kill it. I happily found a safe place to release the female spider and took some pictures before I bid farewell. This is the ONLY TIME I have ever seen a Black Widow–even though I spend  A LOT of time outside.

widow-007Have you heard that black widow females devour their mates after mating? Do you think this is true?

This week’s puzzler is: Do female black widows always eat the male after mating? Yes or no. Check back next weekend to see if your guess was correct. Have you ever seen one? If so, where? As always, I’d love to hear from you! Use the comment box to send me a note.

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What do Bananas, Tequila, Figs and Chocolate have in Common?

Do you know what these items have in common? Any guesses?

Let’s start with bananas… did you know bananas are pollinated by bats? Or that tequila, which comes from the Agave plant, is also pollinated by bats? Figs? They are not pollinated by bats but many bats EAT them and then spread their seeds far and wide–indirectly helping the figs. And chocolate? According to BCI (Bat Conservation International) “economists estimate that without bats controlling pest populations, cocoa bean yields would fall by up to 22%.”

So bananas, tequila, figs and chocolate are all helped, indirectly and directly, by bats. Know what else is on this list? Guava is also pollinated by bats. Cashews, papaya,jackfruit and dates are also foods supported by bat seed dispersal. And sugar, walnuts, rice, coffee, corn, pears, macadamia, cucumbers,almonds and pecans are also foods supported by bat pest control.

Fruit bats in Thailand

Fruit bats in Thailand

Did you know this is BAT WEEK? Have you heard of this? Bat week is an annual, international celebration of the role of bats in nature. This year it goes from October 25th through the 31st.

YOU can take part in this celebration. One of the ways is by building a bat box.

Bat box

Bat box

bci2-1767BCI has a goal of building  5000 new bat boxes! Putting up bat boxes is a great way to attract bats and give them a safe place to live. Why would you want to do that? Because bats EAT A REALLY LOT OF INSECTS! A bat the size of an average-person’s hand can eat up to 1000 mosquito-sized insects in ONE HOUR! This is incredible. Getting rid of mosquitoes in your yard surely must sound like a great idea!

Click HERE to find about bat-box-building events NEAR YOU.

If you already have a bat box, or don’t want to take part in this way, you can celebrate bat week by spreading the word about these important creatures and helping dispel some common and very widespread myths. Click HERE for some of those myths or HERE for 5 ways YOU can help bats.

If you take part in Bat Week, I’d love to hear about it! Drop me a quick note.

Bats in Thailand

Bats in Thailand

Posted in Animals, Call to Action!, Did you know..., Just for Fun, Mammals, Nature NOW | Also tagged , , , 2 Comments

Weekly Puzzler Answer #66

Hello and happy weekend! For those who were at my Little Wonders program last night, this now is an easy one, right? The only animal on earth with ONE ear is the Praying Mantis. Scientists discovered that they have a single ear in the middle of their thorax–a fact that is helpful if they want to avoid being eaten by bats. Check out the longer article about this HERE from the National Wildlife Federation.

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And have you heard that “fact” that every time a praying mantis mates, the female eats the male? Click HERE to learn whether or not that is indeed FACT, or is it FICTION?

Have a great weekend! HERE is the next puzzler.

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Moth Quiz Answers

A Hummingbird moth that is active during the day

A Hummingbird moth that is active during the day

1. All moths are nocturnal

False. Many moths ARE nocturnal, but not all. Some are out during the day–you may have seen them at your flowers–perhaps mistaking them for hummingbirds. There are several species that are called Hummingbird Moths just for this reason! There are also some brightly colored ones that show up at flowers just like butterflies, extending their long proboscis (Pronounced pro- baa- sis) and sipping nectar. Have you seen any?

 2. Some moths will eat holes in your clothing  False.

Moths–if they have any mouthparts at all (some don’t) they have tube-like mouthparts for sipping nectar from flowers. NO ADULT MOTHS eat clothing. Of the thousands of species of moths in the world, a handful will feed on the fibers in clothing. The larvae or caterpillars of these is likely how the myth came to be.

3. There are less moths than butterflies  False

In the world scientists have named 150,000 thousand species of what are called Lepidoptera–these are the butterflies and moths. They estimate that this number might be more like 250,000 – 400,000 as many species have not yet been named or discovered. Of the ones we know of, less than 20,000 are butterflies–making ALL THE REST moths!

So for every butterfly you see, there are 8 moths! There are MANY MORE moths than butterflies.

A beautiful Luna Moth

A beautiful Luna Moth

4. All moths are white or drab-colored

False. While many moths are white and drab-colored, there are many that are very colorful, even beautiful. Some on that list include Luna, Cecropia, Io, Tulip-tree, Promethea, Polyphemus, and many of the day-flying hawk moths.

moth--25. 5. If you touch the wings of a moth or butterfly too much it won’t be able to fly: False.

While it IS true that if you touch a butterfly or moth’s wing, some of the scales will rub off on your fingers, it is not true that the insect will then not be able to fly. Moths and butterflies lose scales all the time, shedding them as they fly, when they rub up against things, etc. You have probably seen examples of butterflies and moths that have really beaten-up-looking wings, sometimes with parts missing. Yet they can still fly. However, handling a butterfly or moth in excess is not a good idea!

How did you do? Want to attract moths to your yard so you can observe them and learn more about them? Then Click HERE. Want to read about a beautiful moth called a Tulip-tree moth? Or, maybe you want to test your skills on another subject? Here are a few more posts about myth busters: Praying Mantis, Spiders, Daddy-long-legs, Halloween Creatures,  Raccoons and Bats.

Posted in Animals, Did you know..., Insects, Spiders and other Invertebrates, Just for Fun, Myth Busters | Also tagged , , , , , 2 Comments