By Katie Gill
When does an animal become a pest? We must each, individually, decide where to draw that line. For me, that line is crossed when creatures start clanging around behind my bedroom wall at dawn.
We changed apartments last month, and our old building had a squirrel problem. Every fall, the little guys would start stashing food for the winter in our attic and the vent over our kitchen stove. Fortunately, maintenance would take care of the issue before we had a full-fledged infestation. Unfortunately, the problem followed us to our new building in an eerie way.
One dawn, I awoke to frantic clawing and banging in the bedroom wall and ceiling. Inches from my resting head was what sounded like a full-grown man trying to break through our drywall and attack us. The squirrels were back! There was a vent right outside our apartment that they were sneaking into. Again, we had maintenance sort out the problem (I don’t know if they sealed off the entrances, relocated the squirrels or what), because that kind of invasive behavior is downright disturbing.
Even on this list, you will see that some creatures are beneficial to us by keeping other animals on the list in check. When an animal becomes invasive — humans included, unfortunately — then it becomes a pest to the environment and its ecosystem.
Nevertheless, this collection of fun animal facts is meant to prove that, despite our preconceptions and misconceptions, many of the creatures that people consider dirty, disease-ridden, or creepy are simply misunderstood. Misinformation spreads like wildfire, and an “us versus them” mentality is easy to adopt when our survival instincts are involved. The truth is, all animals have positive and negative traits, and even bunnies and guinea pigs are rodents.
- Though they get a bad rap for gnawing on everything (hey, bunnies do that, too!), infesting places because of their prolific breeding and, you know, the Plague, rats are actually affectionate, intelligent animals. They are social creatures that can learn tricks and have made countless contributions to science and medicine through their use in laboratory experiments.
- Misunderstood creatures, snakes are not generally aggressive, poison-spewing, slithering creeps. There are more than 2,200 species of snakes in the world, and fewer than 20 percent of them are venomous. Moreover, snakes only tend to bite if you smell like their food (when you’ve handled a rodent recently, for instance), or they feel threatened or afraid. Most of the time, snakes are gentle reptiles and can make great pets, though they can be escape artists.
- Don’t believe the toxic misinformation about pit bulls! The breed is actually one of the sweetest, most family-friendly dogs. In actuality, Chihuahuas and Dachshunds are the bitiest canines. At the end of the day, humans are to blame for any dog’s hostile or violent behavior. There are people who abuse dogs or train them to be aggressive, so pit bulls, being much bigger than Chihuahuas and Weiner Dogs, can do so much more damage than the former if they are mistreated.
- Though all spiders use venom to kill their food, few arachnids have venom that is harmful to humans. In fact, most spiders around your home help keep it clean by eating insects, so think of these guys as free mini maids!
- Falling coconuts, champagne corks, hot tap water, cows, vending machines and being left-handed are among the things more likely to kill you than a shark attack. On average, less than one shark-attack death occurs every two years in the U.S. According to National Geographic, there are 19 non-fatal shark attacks in the U.S. annually. http://kafe.com/news/25-shocking-things-more-likely-to-kill-you-than-a-shark http://m.natgeotv.com/ca/human-shark-bait/facts
- Pepé Le Pew is a lie! Skunks do not stink, unless they spray, which only happens when they are startled or defending their young, and even then they tend to give plenty of warning signals beforehand. Additionally, they help us by eating pests, such as mice, rats, gophers, moles, aphids, grubs, beetles, yellow jackets, grasshoppers, cutworms, rattlesnakes, black widow spiders, cockroaches, and snails. Hence, skunks help keep our homes and farms clean and safe! http://www.stinkybusiness.org/myths.htm
- Forget everything you thought you knew about bats! These winged wild things are not rodents, are not pests, are not dirty, rarely have rabies (1% do, to be exact), and generally try to avoid humans (unless you invade their home, Bruce Wayne). In truth, bats eat insects we consider pests, and provide vital services for our ecosystem. They also CAN see with their little eyes, but do use echolocation to navigate.
The bottom line is: don’t let an animal’s bad rap keep you from experiencing the rich, complex life and contributions it has to offer.
Until next time: stay wild, my friends.