Myths Out: Colorado Springs Wildlife Edition | Ranger Walks | The gallery
The animal kingdom is full of enough extreme facts to last a lifetime, and scientists are discovering new information every day. However, there are many common misconceptions about members of the animal kingdom that are just too wild – no pun intended – to be true. From the biggest growling bear that shakes the ground beneath its paws, to the fast, silent predators in the sky that are used to control nature’s pests, we’ve digged a little deeper into the truth about our own Colorado wildlife.
I’m one of the education technicians with the City of Colorado Springs Department of Parks, Recreation, and Cultural Services. The duties of an education technician are to help park rangers patrol our trails and open spaces, develop awareness programs, and educate the general public on a wide range of different environmental topics.
One of the best-known myths in the animal kingdom is that bears hibernate during the winter. Park enthusiasts and nature lovers across the country are increasingly paying attention to the annual Bear Fat Week, held in Katmai National Park. Managed by park rangers, Fat Bear Week celebrates the resilience and success of native brown bears as they gorge themselves on the Brooks River sockeye reserves. Individual brown bears face off against each other in a “March Madness” tournament, which allows visitors to vote online for their most beloved giant bear. Before waddling awkwardly back to their dens, bears can tip the scales at over half a ton. This accelerated mass overload helps bears survive through the winter.
The process of wrapping up on the books is called binge eating, but the activity of bears – or lack of activity – in their dens for the winter is actually defined as winter torpor because bears are not of true hibernators. During hibernation, an animal’s body temperature, respiratory rate and heart rate decrease dramatically; true hibernators can literally shut down during these months. Bears, on the other hand, will enter a deep sleep known as torpor, where their heart, breathing rate, and body temperature will drop, but not as drastically as in hibernation. Unlike animals that undergo real hibernation, bears (called sows) will emerge from torpor to give birth. Colorado is home to only one species of bear, the black bear, which comes in many shades of blond, cinnamon, or brown.
Another myth is that owls can turn their heads completely 360 degrees like Regan in “The Exorcist”. The truth is owls are limited to just 270 degrees of rotation, but because they can turn their heads 270 degrees to the right and to the left, that gives them a range of motion of 540 degrees. This awe-inspiring feat overshadows the range of motion humans possess, which is only 140 degrees. Owls achieve this supernatural flexibility through multiple vertebrae in their neck and spine, as well as a single socket pivot connecting the head to the neck. Since these charismatic raptors have fixed eye sockets and are unable to rotate their disproportionately heavy eyes, they rely on the flexibility of their necks and head rotation to follow their prey. There are 14 different species of owls native to Colorado, including the Great Horned Owl, the Barn Owl and the Burrowing Owl, which are an endangered species.
Wolves have been a hot topic in folklore and legends for centuries, but at the end of 2020 Colorado voters approved Proposition 114, which calls on Colorado Parks and Wildlife to reintroduce gray wolves to the state here. 2023 and to consolidate the presence of the great dog in the history of the state once again. . Any classic snapshot of this animal would be incomplete without the full moon illuminating the wolf’s fangs as it rears up in a long, mournful howl, but the conception that wolves howl at the moon is about as true as the existence of werewolves. All wolves howl at night because that is when they are most active. They tilt their heads back when they howl, as this allows the sound to travel greater distances, up to seven miles away! Wolves can even give a specific howl when separated from the rest of the pack.
Myths, especially related to the natural world, can originate from just about anywhere. Most likely, they are the product of recycled stories that have been passed down over the years, or perhaps the result of traditional legends mixed with what we already know. However, facts and scientific evidence often reveal that these stories are just that. Our team of educational technicians are ready to discuss wildlife, myths and more with you when you go on an adventure in our beautiful parks, trails and open spaces!
Tierni Chun is an Education Technician in the TOPS Stewardship Program. She grew up in Colorado Springs and attended Unity College in Maine, where she majored in wildlife and fisheries management and played soccer. One of Tierni’s professional goals is to create ways to make outdoor and environmental education programs more accessible to people with special needs.