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Owls Aren't Wise & Bats Aren't Blind: A Naturalist Debunks Our Favorite Fallacies About Wildlife


Publisher:Broadway Books



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About the book:

Ever pick up a toad only to have it soak your hand? Don't worry, it was the animal's emergency water storage (not urine!), dumped in a fight-or-flight panic. Think that new beaver clan will dent the trout population in your favorite fishing hole? They don't touch the stuff: beavers are strictly vegan. And go ahead, get close to that porcupine, because they can't fire quills like an AK-47. Want more? Warner Shedd, a native Vermonter, lifelong naturalist, former Forest Service honcho, and a retired executive for the National Wildlife Federation, dispels wildlife fallacies that have passed through generations of well-intended grandfathers and poorly informed folk tales. Shedd covers everything about most backyard critters--from gray squirrels to newts--and expands on some wilder species that we only think we understand.

But Shedd's refreshing anecdotes aren't entirely naysaying. In fact, he confirms many myths with a bit of explanatory elaboration. Take the raven's knack for mimicry, for example; it's entirely capable of uttering "nevermore" if it desires. And while bats aren't entirely blind, Shedd writes, they rely largely on echolocation to navigate, bouncing high-frequency shrieks off nearby objects, sometimes in the range of 115 kilohertz (a human's range goes to a mere 20 kHz).

While these details gives us some solid facts to gnash on, it's Shedd's personal anecdotes (much to the dismay of his resilient Labrador Heidi, who, while accompanying Shedd, has been jumped by muskrats and porcupines, among other things) that elevate his information to entertainment. Retelling stories from his boyhood in Vermont and from his professional work, he takes the reader on a ride through familiar territory: describing roadside carcasses, trash-ravaging raccoons, and clumsy coyotes, among other encounters. To keep us current, however, Shedd updates ongoing conservation efforts and opens an occasional window into his own personal opinions on wildlife management. We're left with a satisfying, inspiring handbook to some of North America's most familiar and erroneously understood creatures. --Lolly Merrell

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