Common outdoor myths about plants, critters debunked

Know the truth about critters and plant life you may encounter.

Sometimes parents tell tall tales on purpose. But, sometimes, we don’t even know ourselves that we’re telling myths and not truths. We may be passing our fears and worries along unnecessarily.

As a naturalist for Five Rivers MetroParks in Montgomery County, Joshua York likes to replace the fiction with fact when he gets the opportunity.

“It’s all about risk management,” York said. “A little bit of research can help you learn what things children should fear and what things they shouldn’t. The goal should be to get them outside to have fun. You want your kids to develop strong minds and bodies, and they can’t do that when sitting in front of a television.”

Here’s a rundown of some of the most common myths, and the reality, as explained by York:

Creepy crawlies

Daddy-long legs are poisonous: False. “They are completely harmless to humans,” York said. They lack venom glands and only eat plant sap, dead material and small invertebrates. It may be gratifying to think we’re saved from harm because their mouths are just too small to bite us, but even if they did, there’s no chance of injury.

Toads give you warts: False. Warts are caused by a virus that toads can’t carry. A toad’s skin is bumpy to provide camouflage.

Ticks bury their heads in your skin: False. “It’s just their mouth parts that go in,” York said. While it is possible to get Lyme disease or Rocky Mountain spotted fever from a tick, York said those diseases are actually quite rare. Removing a tick within the first 24 hours greatly reduces your chance of getting a disease. Don’t use a match: Simply take a pair of tweezers, grab the tick’s head, and pull it directly out.

Black widow and brown recluse spiders are deadly: False. They can make you very sick and put you in the hospital, but unless you are very young or very old, a bite is unlikely to kill you. Fortunately, neither spider is common in the Dayton area.

Snakes will chase you: False. Like many wild creatures, snakes are generally more interested in avoiding you. “Usually, rattlesnakes around here are very docile,” York said. “A lot of times they won’t even rattle.” Thanks to urban development, venomous snakes are actually few and far between in this part of Ohio, so your chance of encountering one is rather unlikely.


A poison ivy rash is contagious: False. It’s not. “After you’ve washed your body, you cannot pass that rash onto someone else,” York said. As long as you’ve washed the sap off, it’s gone. It is possible to get the rash from oil remaining on clothing or shoes, so wash all items thoroughly.

Moss grows only on the north side of trees: False. Moss grows anywhere on a tree where there is moisture. In the shade of a forest, that could be facing any direction, not just north.

Bats and birds

Bats fly in your hair: False. Bats aren’t interested in your hair and won’t get close enough to get tangled in it. If they swoop close to you, they’re aiming for nearby insects. Ohio bat species only eat insects, so there’s no need here to fear blood-sucking bats. For the record, vampires aren’t commonly found in Ohio, either.

Bird eggs touched by humans will be abandoned: False. Birds don’t have a very good sense of smell, so they are unlikely to know if your child found their nest and picked up an egg.

Owls can turn their heads 360 degrees around: False. Actually, they can turn their head only 270 degrees. Any more, and they’d crimp their blood vessels.

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