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Believe It or Not? Busting Common Nature Myths

Myths are a funny thing. Some are based on facts, with some elements twisted and stretched beyond the truth. Some are downright incorrect, but the wrongness is widely accepted as true because it has been passed down from generation to generation with no reason to think it’s anything but accurate. Some are simply a nice thing to believe, and so we do. 


A full moon in the sky next to a bare tree.
(Photo via Shutterstock)

But myths being myths, they aren’t hard truths. They aren’t truths at all. They are embellishments, exaggerations and misunderstandings of facts. In nature, myths abound. Here are a few — and the truth behind them.  


The full moon alters human behavior 


It’s pretty much an established fact that a full moon makes humans act a little out of sorts, right? Not so fast. No scientific study has ever been able to conclusively establish a link between the full moon and altered human behavior.


Numerous studies have been done to prove the link, but the research was conducted poorly and often did not account for variables. To date, no study has proven what we generally regard to be fact.  


The premise that the moon affects how humans behave is often attributed to the moon’s gravitational force, which causes the oceans’ tides. But three principles explain why the moon’s gravity doesn’t affect us. First, the gravitational pull is not powerful enough to change human brain activity. Also, the moon can only create tides in open bodies of water, like oceans. Our bodies are a body of water, but they are a closed body of water. Lastly, the moon’s gravitational force is always the same. It is not greater during a full moon than a new moon. 


Lightning can’t strike the same place twice 


The belief that lighting can’t or won’t strike the same place twice is a dangerous one because it certainly can — and it often does.  


Lightning often — but not always — strikes the tallest object nearby because it is the easiest path for the electricity to take. Think about skyscrapers in big cities. They are often struck by lightning because they are the tallest object around.  


 

Words to know

Anomaly: Something that deviates from what is normal.

Capable: Having the ability to achieve a specific thing.

Embellishment: A detail in a story to make it more interesting or entertaining but that is often not true.

Erratic: Deviating from the usual or proper course or conduct.

Evaporate: To turn from liquid to vapor.

Faint: Barely perceptible.

Offspring: An animal’s young.


 

Sometimes it’s an anomaly that lightning strikes the same place twice, but some factors can make it more likely for a specific spot to be struck more than once. Places where metal objects like pipes lay below the ground’s surface may make a spot more likely to get struck. Even things like moisture content or presence or absence of rocks may make a spot more likely to be struck. 


While we are on the topic of lightning, let’s also clear up another myth. There is no such thing as heat lightning. The lightning we refer to as heat lightning is just lightning from a thunderstorm that is too far away to feel the other effects of.


Mother birds will abandon their babies if you touch them


Have you been told that you should never touch a baby bird because its mother will reject it and abandon it? This is half right. You shouldn’t touch a baby bird, but not because its mother will abandon it. In fact, in many cases a mother bird won’t even know you handled her offspring. 


Robin hatchlings in a nest.
(Photo via Shutterstock)

Most birds don’t have a good sense of smell, so they won’t be able to smell that a human has touched their baby. Birds also won’t abandon a nest if humans touch their eggs. They may rebuild if a predator disturbs the nest, however. 


The reason you shouldn’t touch a baby bird is because in most cases they don’t need help. They may look helpless on the ground, but it’s part of their development. Young birds seen on the ground are often fledglings. These birds are getting ready to leave the nest and learn how to fly. 


If you see a young bird without feathers laying on the ground, it may need help. These birds are typically nestlings that are not yet ready to leave the nest. Sometimes they are blown or fall out of their nests. Look at nearby bushes and trees to see if you can find the nest. Once you spot it, gently place the nestling back inside. 


Bats are blind 


The refrain “blind as a bat” is a common one, but most bat species see very well. Some bats, like fruit bats, even have much better vision than humans. 


The myth that bats are blind may have been started because bats often fly erratically. However, their erratic flight patterns are because they use echolocation to navigate. Echolocation is basically sound waves created by the bats that bounce off objects to let them know exactly where they are. This is why they can fly so close to objects without flying into them. 


Because bats can see and because they use echolocation to precisely maneuver in flight, we can bust another myth too. Bats don’t often fly into people’s hair, getting caught in the process.  


Daddy long legs are one of the most venomous spiders in the world 


This myth can be busted in a few ways. First, daddy long legs aren’t actually spiders. They are harvestmen, which are spiderlike creatures but distinct from spiders. Harvestmen lack venom and silk glands and only have two eyes compared to the eight eyes virtually all spiders have.


A cellar spider.
(Photo via Shutterstock)

The term daddy long legs is often used generically, however. It may be a reference to spider species like cellar spiders and others. While these spiders are venomous, they pose no risks to humans.  


In fact, the venom from cellar spiders is relatively mild by spider venom standards. The vast majority of spiders pose no risk to humans. Only 1/20th of 1% of all the spider species in the world are dangerous to humans.


Bees die when they sting you 


It might be comforting to know that bees die after they sting you because you’ll be spared more pain, but in many cases it simply isn’t true. 


A bee on a wild geranium bloom.
(Photo by Glenn P. Knoblock)

Honeybees do die after using their stinger to inject venom, but many other kinds of bees and stinging insects do not. Honeybees die after using their stingers because they can’t retract them. Instead the stinger is ripped out, which kills the bee in the process. But wasps, hornets and many other kinds of bees can safely remove their stinger after injecting it, allowing them to sting again and again. 


Don’t be too bummed by this news because while some bees are capable of stinging more than once, most bee species aren’t capable of stinging at all. Of the more than 20,000 bee species in the world, only about 500 are capable of stinging.


It can be too cold to snow 


Our coldest winter days are often clear and sunny, but don’t let that fool you into thinking it’s too cold to snow. It cannot ever be too cold to snow.


The idea that it’s too cold to snow may have come about because most heavy snowfall occurs when the temperature is at least 15 degrees Fahrenheit. Heavy snow doesn’t usually fall when it’s colder than that because moisture is important in the development of snow, and the air is usually too dry when it is below 15 degrees for heavy snow to develop. 


At lower temperatures, snow crystals still form, but they don’t develop into large flakes because there isn’t enough water in the atmosphere for them to grow. These tiny ice crystals do fall to the earth, but they typically evaporate before reaching the ground. 


Fawns are born without a scent 


This myth can be busted, but it’s close to true. Fawns are born with a scent, but it’s very faint. And their faint scent serves an important purpose.


A white-tailed deer standing in tall grasses in front of a log.
(Photo courtesy of Joe Viola)

Fawns have only a faint scent because their scent glands are not fully developed at birth. This is useful because it makes it harder for predators to sniff them out.


Because they are hard for predators to find using scent alone, mother does often leave their fawns for long periods. While she never travels too far from them, she only visits them a few times a day to nurse.

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