New York State is home to a variety of animals! There are nearly 100 mammal species, 375 bird species, and over 70 species of reptiles and amphibians found in New York. While we try our best to understand these animals, sometimes myths spread about them that may not be true. Can turtles come out of their shells? Do toads give you warts? These common animal myths stem from folklore, old sayings, misunderstandings, and more, but we can do our best to separate fact from fiction. Let’s take a look at some top myths about a few animals found in New York State Parks!
Are bats blind?
No, bats are not blind! The bats found in New York are part of a group called microbats, which do rely heavily on echolocation (the location of objects by reflected sound) to navigate and find insect prey. Scientists who have examined the eyes of these bats have determined that they have some night vision as well as limited daylight vision. Some species even have ultraviolet (UV) vision. Though not found in New York, megabats—the fruit-eaters—rely primarily on vision and smell, rather than echolocation. Overall, vision is important to help bats avoid predators and find food and shelter.
Fun fact: While several animals can glide (like flying squirrels), bats are the only mammals known in the world that are capable of true and sustained flight!
Will touching a toad give you warts?
Good news for all of us that grew up catching frogs and toads. No, touching a toad will not give you warts! Warts are actually caused by a virus that is spread between people. This myth probably began because of the bumpy skin on a toad’s back. There are two bumps to be careful of though; behind the eyes of toads are two large areas called parotoid glands. As a defense mechanism, these glands produce a toxin that causes irritation to a predator’s mouth. So if you do catch a toad, it is still a good idea to wash your hands afterwards.
Can porcupines shoot their quills?
No, a porcupine cannot shoot its quills! First, let’s take a look at what a quill is. A quill is a very stiff, hollow hair that can be found mixed in with the softer hair of a porcupine. When threatened, a porcupine’s quills may stand up to scare away the threat, but they cannot be shot from the porcupine’s body. There must be direct contact with the quills for them to dislodge, but even the lightest touch can be enough to dislodge a quill or two. Best to keep our distance around porcupines!
Fun fact: The North American porcupine has around 30,000 quills!
Can turtles come out of their shells?
No, there’s no way a turtle can come out of its shell! A turtle’s upper shell, called the carapace, is partly made of bone from the turtle’s rib cage and is actually fused to the turtle’s backbone. The lower shell is called the plastron and the two shells are joined by a bony bridge. The shell is part of the body and grows along with the turtle, which is different from crabs and lobsters that must molt or shed their exoskeleton. And to address another common animal misunderstanding, turtles are able to feel when something touches their shells, due to the presence of nerve endings in the shell.
The Eastern box turtle has a hinge on its plastron (lower shell). This allows it to tuck its head, arms, and legs away from predators, forming a tightly sealed “box.” Photo by John Triana, Regional Water Authority, Bugwood.org
A turtle’s backbone is fused to the upper shell, shown in this drawing of a turtle’s skeleton. Photo Public Domain
Do all bees die after they sting you?
No, it depends on the species! Honey bees, for example, have barbs (hooks) on their stinger that can stick into the skin of the target and prevent the stinger from being pulled out by the bee. If the barbs are stuck in the target’s skin, the stinger is torn away from the bee’s body when it tries to fly away and the honey bee dies. Other bee and wasp species, including bumblebees, yellowjackets, and paper wasps, have stingers with small barbs, enabling them to sting multiple times.
A stinger’s barb size varies by species. This stinger belongs to a paper wasp. Photo by Insects Unlocked, CC BY 2.0
A honey bee can only sting once. Photo by David Cappaert, Bugwood.org
Post by Kelsey Ruffino, Student Conservation Association and New York State Parks
Featured image: Eastern Pipistrelle, photo by Lilly Schelling, State Parks
New York State Parks is abuzz with excitement for pollinators. From June 20-26, we celebrate both National Pollinator Week and New York State Pollinator Awareness Week. Our local bees, butterflies, moths, birds and other pollinators are to thank for most of the food we eat, as well as for many of the trees and flowers we enjoy every day. As these animals go from flower to flower to drink nectar, they accidentally carry sticky pollen from the anthers to the stigma, the male and female parts of flowers. This fertilizes the eggs, which grow into seeds and fruits that we enjoy.
One of the ways you can show appreciation for these fantastic pollinators is to get out to natural areas in State Parks and enjoy the native flora. You can also explore native plant gardens and learn more about using native plant species in your own backyard to attract pollinators. Last year we paid homage to a few of our favorite New York pollinators. This year, let’s have a closer look at some of the plants and the pollinators that visit them.
Just as pollinators come in all shapes and sizes, so too do the native plants that they enjoy. Different plants attract different types of pollinators. Look for all kinds of flowers in the woods, wetlands, meadows, gardens or orchards and you are apt to see some pollinators at work. Below are some of the native pollinators and flora found in State Parks, with photos from the NY Natural Heritage Program. NYNHP works in partnership with State Parks (OPRHP) to assess and conduct inventories of natural areas in state parks and helps to protect habitats that support common and rare species alike, including these important pollinators.
Whether you are a hiker, gardener, farmer, or food-lover you can enjoy and support our local pollinators! Maintaining natural areas, meadows or gardens with a variety of plants can help to sustain all the life stages of a wide range of insects from bees to butterflies.
If you are interested in creating a backyard oasis for native pollinators, look for plants that are native to your area of the state and, if possible, grown near where you live. Consider planting different types of flowers; gardens with an array of flowers blooming at different times provide food for a variety of pollinators throughout the season. Look for white, yellow or blue flowers to attract bees. Red tubular flowers attract hummingbirds (bees don’t even see red). Butterflies prefer bright flowers, particularly reds, oranges, and purple (like fall asters). Moths are attracted to white, purple, or pink flowers with strong, sweet scents, especially those emitting a scent at night. See resources below on pollinators and native plants in your area.
State Parks is celebrating pollinators at these events across the state:
Clay Pit Ponds State Park – Time Tuesdays, June 21 @ 10am
Learn about our native pollinators by making crafts, playing games, and socializing with other toddlers! Parent or care giver is required to stay. Ages 1-3 (flexible). Please call (718) 605-3970 ext 201 for more information.
Saratoga Spa State Park – Butterfly Walk Friday, June 24 @2:00pm
Did you know restoring a habitat is like building a neighborhood? Come enjoy a light hike at the Karner Blue site and learn what butterflies live in the same neighborhood as the Karner Blue butterfly. Please wear hats and sunscreen. You may want to bring binoculars or a magnifying glass to see butterflies up close. This program is appropriate for ages 7 and up. Registration is required. Please call 518-584-2000 ext. 122. This program is free.
Thacher Nature Center – Honeybees Are Buzzin’, June 25 @ 2pm
Summertime brings flowers and a hive packed with activity! Come and learn all about honeybees as you view the colony in our indoor observation hive. See the busy workers, the specialized drones and the ever-important queen bee in action! Learn how to dance like a bee, and view the world from a bee’s perspective. Afterwards, take a walk to observe our honeybees at work in the gardens. Please register by calling 518-872-0800.
Letchworth State Park – Butterfly Beauties, June 26 @ 2pm
Study the beauty and composition of hundreds of dried butterfly specimens representing most of the world’s butterfly families. Dozens of local and New York species, as well as those found in the Niagara Parks Butterfly Conservatory, are specially noted. Butterfly structure and local natural history will be featured in two new butterfly videos. This is an excellent primer for the Butterfly Walk on July 9th. (Look for details in the upcoming summer issue of The Genesee Naturalist.) All workshops meet in the Conference Room in the Visitor Center and Regional Administration Building located in Letchworth State Park. Please call (585) 493-3680 for more information.
Ganondagan State Historic Site – Planting for Ethnobotany Workshop Saturday, August 6, 2016 @9:00am-11:00am
Participants will help plant native plants in the Green Plants Trail and the Pollinator Grassland at Ganondagan. Ages 8 and up. Registration Required. Please call (585) 924-5848 for more information.
Please note, some of the plants listed in this resource are native to the ecoregion but not to NY state. Please check the NY Flora Atlas to confirm which are native to New York before choosing your planting list.
— NY Flora Atlas – list of plants known in NY and which are native or not