Wildlife superstitions: fact or fiction?

By Kathleen St. Clair-McGee

Reader Contributor

We have all heard the fallacies, stories, tales, myths, legends, folklore about wild animals. Where is the line of fact or fiction?

Superstitions are delusions, fallacies are misinformation, myths are traditional stories of supposed historical content, folklore is a retelling of traditions. In 200 A.D., Clement of Alexandria wrote that there were heathens amongst them. They were worshiping sticks and stones, making idols. This practice was the source of all superstition, so he said. Time marches onward but the stories of magic and folk customs persevere; glamorous and gruesome tales of witchcraft, vampires, zombies, werewolves remain. Once the wild animals were revered, now they are often vilified.

Some Common Myths: Cougars eat a deer a day. They threaten livestock. Lynx and bobcats are the same animal. Black bears hoot like an owl and often attack people. Raccoons make good pets. They do not have salivary glands so wash their food. Bats are blind. Bats carry the disease rabies. Skunks cannot spray if picked up by the tail. They are ruining my lawn. Gray squirrels live in peace with the pine squirrels. Beavers can build a dam overnight. Porcupines shoot their quills. Deer are fragile and make good pets.

Fawns that are found are orphaned. Small dogs are not a threat. Moose are slow moving and do not harm deer. Toads cause warts. Owls can swivel their head all the way around. Hunting causes a huge threat to the populations of wild animals. Predators are causing havoc on our native habitat. There are good animals and bad animals. Trap and release of wild domestic cats is humane. Live traps are a humane way to get rid of unwanted wild animals. Wildlife rehabilitation can be successful for any animal all that is needed is the internet.

Facts: Cougars take large prey such as elk, or big horn sheep. A single cougar takes only one deer every 16 days. Lynx are threatened in the lower 48 states. They are a specialty feeder and have one litter of two kits every year. Bobcats are diverse in prey choice. They have two to four kits per litter. Numbers are stable.

Black bears growl, grunt, rumble, snort, woof and whuffle but they do not hoot. They have poor eyesight but great smell and hearing. Raccoons are a wild animal, never an appropriate pet. They are not the anomaly of the animal kingdom; placing items in water is just their thing to do.

Bats can see in low light. They are not a rabies carrier. Less than 1 percent of human cases are attributed to bats that have contracted the disease prior to being handled. Bats consume 50 percent of their body weight each night. A colony of 1,000 bats weighing 10 grams each could consume 22 pounds of insects nightly. Using echolocation they can identify items as small as a piece of thread in total darkness.

Skunks have poor eyesight and spray if startled. They spray only reluctantly to a distance of about 12 feet and consume insects mostly—the harmful ones that are ruining your lawn.

Gray squirrels are not native to the Inland Northwest. The little black pine squirrels are the native tree dweller. Beaver dams are built by the entire family over many months. They are vegetarians. Porcupines quills are like hair. They are ripped out by the attacker.

Deer are strong, agile-bodied wild animals. Fawns are left alone while the mother feeds. Small dogs will chase and run down the deer until exhausted where they then chew on ears and tails. Moose can travel 44 feet per second when in a hurry. The deer actually harm the moose when they defecate roundworm eggs that ultimately ingest the parasite which causes death.

Toads warts are glands. Human warts are caused from viruses. Owls swivel their head 270 degrees, not all the way around. Statistics and surveys show licensed hunting is only a minor reason of mortality. Loss of habitat, domestic and feral cat predation are the two major threats to wildlife. Eradication of predators will not stabilize a healthy ecosystem. A 20-year survey demonstrated the removal of thousands of wolves, cougars, coyotes from an area of 4,000 deer caused the deer to explode. In one year 60,000 deer starved to death and additional deer were struggling while the vegetation recovered. A healthy ecosystem requires all native species of flora and fauna.

Domestic cats are responsible for the death of 4 billion animals annually. Outdoor cats are the single greatest source of human caused mortality for birds and mammals. Feral cats still suffer from the harsh environments as well as many diseases (including those that can be transferred to humans). Live traps are not humane. Studies have shown that 75 percent of the relocated animals died of starvation.

The ahwf.org website has articles on how to humanely evict the unwanted native neighbor. Wildlife rehabilitation should be performed by trained professionals only. It is illegal in Idaho and it is not in the best interest of the wild animal.


Kathleen St. Clair-McGee is the founder and Board of Directors President of the American Heritage Wildlife Foundation, which works towards the preservation of all wildlife through rehabilitation and community education. Check out www.ahwf.org for more information.

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