Ah, the things we’ve heard, believed, and passed on. Sometimes, just sometimes, I pine for the simplicity of the urban myths of yesteryear. What we’ve today come to call “fake news” or “alternative facts” were, well, simpler then. Innocent. Relatively harmless. (Well, many were, anyway.)
Okay, this isn’t a political post. It’s safe to keep reading. I’m talking about commonly held beliefs from the natural world.
I’ve heard there are alligators in the sewers of (insert city name here, usually New York City). They live off of pets and rats they can catch. Some, because of how long they’ve lived underground, have hatched blind, albino offspring.
The daddy longlegs is the most venomous spider in the world. The only reason they don’t kill people is their fangs are too short to penetrate our skin.
These myths have been passed along and grown because they seem plausible. It seems like an alligator could live in the sewer. Maybe those spiders are dangerous…they’ve always kind of creeped me out, and their heads are really small.
A little bit of thought, or, Heaven forbid, a little bit of reading, though, and those stories sort of fall apart. Before I go any further, I need to say I’m not throwing stones. While I’m working to dismantle that particular glass house, it’s still way too beautiful for that!
Last night, I had an “I’ve heard” experience. Like I did a few days ago, I was helping a friend of mine conduct a raptor presentation. I was able to present Max, a male Eurasian eagle owl, to a youth scouting group at a local church. Standing on the grass beside the building, we went through the standard presentation, took some questions, and then stood by as the kids were taken inside. A few parents hung back, and one gentleman walked over to me, clearly eager to have a close-up look at the owl.
We talked for a few minutes as he asked questions about Max’s age, weight, natural habitat, and diet. Then he paused as if he was reluctant to ask his next question. After a moment, he said, “I’ve heard that birds of prey can eat their weight in food in a single day. Is that true?”
We’d already talked about how the bird I was holding weighed around four pounds, so, in essence, he was asking if it could eat four pounds of food in a single day. I respected his question, but all the more so because he already sounded a bit skeptical himself.
Now, honestly, I didn’t know how much a raptor can eat in a single day. I wasn’t going to pull out my phone to look it up, but I did do a bit of the thinking I mentioned earlier. I knew most birds are typically already at about their weight limit for flight. If they were much heavier, they just couldn’t fly. I also knew, though, that raptors do, indeed, have a big appetite.
So we talked it out as we thought through it together. We decided that a four-pound bird could probably eat about one pound of food. We also decided that a bird (or any other animal larger than an insect) couldn’t possibly eat its weight in food. Mosquitos, probably, but that’s about it.
After a few more minutes we said goodbye and he walked off to go find his kid. It was good–fun, even–to think through a problem like that and come up with an educated guess. It was a lot better than me just rattling off an answer; that’s what I think, anyway.
As a closing note, I did look it up. A raptor will sometimes eat between 1/4 and 1/3 of its weight, but then not need to eat again for a while. Wow…that’s an appetite.