Critter conundrums

Test your 'woods wisdom' with this quiz. Is the statement true or false?

1. Porcupine quills are barbed.

2. Squirrels are omnivores.

3. Beavers can fell trees in a desired direction.

4. A deer's age can be told by its antlers.

5. The silver fox is a red fox in winter.

6. Opossums hang by their tails when they sleep.

7. Toads have warts and can cause them in humans.

ANSWERS

1. False. It's widely believed that porcupine quills are equipped with tiny barbs like those on a fishhook. Instead, the tip of a quill has small scales, much like fish scales, which happen to overlap and function like the barbs on a fishhook.

2. True. Squirrels are no vegetarians. Reds and grays alike are known to feed on birds' eggs and baby birds. The reds also eat the young of small mammals, and the grays eat frogs.

3. False. Far from knowing or planning the direction of a fall, beavers are sometimes injured or killed when the tree they're felling accidentally lands on them.

4. False. The only accurate way to tell a deer's age is by its teeth. Tooth wear serves as a better guide than antler growth, although it becomes less accurate as the deer ages.

5. True. Not all 'red foxes' are red. They can also have black, brown, or silver fur. A silver fox is basically a black fox in winter, when silver-tipped guard hairs grow out through the black, giving the fox a silver appearance.

6. False. This is a myth. Biologists who work with opossums have never seen this behavior. However, they do wrap their tails around branches in order to brace themselves and steady their position in trees, but only briefly.

7. False. Toads' so-called warts are not warts at all, but glands that serve as a defense. Toads have nothing to do with human warts.

SOURCES: 'Owls Aren't Wise and Bats Aren't Blind' by Warner Shedd, 'The World Book Encyclopedia.'

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