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Animals are awesome, but sometimes fantastic facts can turn into wild tales that just are not true. Do camels store water in their humps? Do porcupines shoot their quills? Do snakes suffocate their prey?

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There's this thing that happens where people hear something about an animal that sounds cool or seems to make sense and then they share that with their friends.  Problem is, if it's not true, that's how myths and misconceptions spread and I'm here to dispel those pesky animal myths once and for all.

Misconception #1: Porcupines can shoot their quills.

When I bring Kemosabe out for a presentation, the front row will often immediately shrink back and someone's hand shoots up asking, Can he shoot his quills?  I'm happy to report that no, porcupines cannot shoot their quills, no matter how many cartoons say they can.  Porcupine quills are just modified hairs and they can't shoot their quills any more than you can shoot the hair off your head.  The quills of new world porcupines can stick into and remain in an assailant, but for that to happen, there needs to be some forceful contact between the porcupine and the offender, so you're safe as long as you don't pat them on the back. 

I've heard the same myth about hedgehogs and they also cannot shoot their quills.  Hedgehogs can't even release their quills like porcupines do.  They stay put on their body.  So to really deter an attacker, they resort to jumping toward and poking them with really dirty spines that they often coat with their own feces.  So while you can't get quills shot at you from porcupines or hedgehogs, the poking part should be enough of a deterrent to ensure you treat all the pokey animals with respect.

Another myth that I love to dispel is that snakes suffocate their prey.  

Even I was taught this in school, but new research that just came out in 2015 changed everything.  Scientists discovered that snakes were killing their prey in as little as a minute and that's just way too fast for suffocation.  Constrictors are actually squeezing so hard that they are cutting off the blood supply to the heart and brain, essentially causing a heart attack.  This kills their prey much quicker than suffocation could, making it more efficient and overall safer for the snake.  

One of my favorite myths is that camels can store water in their humps.

 I was definitely taught this in elementary school, and sure, camels are desert animals so they must have a way to live without water for long periods of time.  That's true, but storing water in their humps is not the way they do it.  Camels can survive for up to seven days without water because they have oval shaped blood cells.  The oblong shape allows the cells to squeeze through tiny blood vessels that get smaller during dehydration.  The cells can also expand up to 240% of their original volume, where most animals can only expand up to 150%.  This allows camels to rehydrate quickly by taking in a bunch of water at a time.  

Camels are also excellent at retaining the water in their bodies by super efficient elimination.  Their pee can be as thick as syrup and their poop is so dry it can be used as a firestarter.  So camels don't use their humps to store water.  Instead, they're actually used to store fat.  There's enough nourishment in the fat of a well-fed dromedary camel that if they needed to, they could go three weeks without eating.  

Alright, another myth you've probably heard is that you can't teach an old dog new tricks.

This is not true.  Dogs of any age can learn new things.  All it takes is some clear communication with their human and some kind of reward for motivation.  Five to ten minute training sessions each day for a week or two and you can train a senior dog most simple behaviors, like sit, stay, come, and lay down.  If you both enjoy it, keep it up and try some more difficult ones, like shake, circle, and roll over.

Along the same line, I've heard you can't train a cat way too many times.

Sure you can!  Using positive reinforcement, you can train any animal. All you need to do is find what motivates them, like food, a toy, attention, or whatever, then find a way to clearly communicate what you'd like them to do, like an Oscar fish trained to swim through a hoop, an alligator trained to come to a target, an armadillo trained to position themselves for an ultrasound, and a hyena trained to offer their vein for a blood draw to monitor health.

So while you might think training a cat is difficult, honestly, compared to training a sloth, cats are a piece of cake.  

Okay, here's a myth that's pretty prevalent: bats are blind.  

Since bats are known for flying around at night, it's often thought that they use their sonar to detect their surroundings because they can't see, but bats can see.  They just don't rely on their eyesight as much because it isn't as well developed as their sense of hearing or smell, both of which are highly specialized, so instead of saying 'as blind as a bat', you could be saying 'as perfectly adapted as a bat'.  It's not as catchy, but much more accurate.

Thanks for joining me on this adventure into dispelling those pesky animal myths.  I hope you learned something new today and if you'd like to continue learning new animal things, you can subscribe to our YouTube channel, AnimalWondersMontana.  Thanks, guys.