Essential pet advice with vet Jo Gourlay

Due to a new job, this will be my final article, so I wanted to end with a bit of light-hearted fun.

While recently passing a field with lots of swans in it, my husband and I got into a discussion about whether or not the myth that they could break your arm was true. So, inspired by that conversation, we discuss the truth – or lack of it! – behind five popular animal myths.

Starting with the swan, according to The Swan Sanctuary they can, indeed, break an arm but only in exceptional circumstances. Swans are not normally aggressive but will act in self defence, especially to protect their nesting ground or cygnets. If the full weight of the wing at speed hit the arm of a child or someone with weaker bones then, theoretically, it could break, although in reality it’s pretty much unheard of.

The second myth that tempted me was that goldfish only have a three-second memory span. This one has been dispelled by researchers at Plymouth University, where goldfish were trained to push a lever to receive food. To add a level of complexity, once they had learned to do this, the lever was only switched on for an hour every day. The fish stopped pushing the lever as frequently outside this hour time slot and would gather round the lever as the hour approached.

Myth three is that cows lie down when it’s about to rain. Sadly, there isn’t any scientific proof behind this one.

Cows spend quite a bit of time lying down, often chewing their cud (chewing regurgitated food), and it does rain lots (especially in recent months) so the two coinciding are just thought to be chance. Weatherman Bill Giles is quoted as saying “You look in a field – half of them are standing up, half are sitting down. Is that supposed to be showery?”

Staying with the farmyard theme, are hen’s teeth really rare? This one is a bit complicated. If you look far enough back into history (about 80 million years) then, no, ancient ancestors of today’s birds used to have teeth that have been likened to an alligator’s!

What’s more, our modern-day chooks haven’t lost the ability to grow them. By studying a mutant chicken (that never hatched) scientists were able to make normal chickens temporarily develop teeth by switching on the gene responsible for their growth.

Finally, we finish looking to the spring and longer days and, hopefully, better weather with asking whether march hares are mad. Many would argue this one is true as the normally retiring and shy species suddenly become downright feisty with their fisticuffs at dusk and dawn.

What many don’t realise, though, is that it’s not usually the boys punching it out over a particularly lovely lady or even a mating ritual – it is actually predominantly the female hares keeping the would-be Lotharios in check, with a box or two when needed.

It seems the Olympics were behind the times only getting the ladies involved in 2012.

n Don’t miss next week’s Gazette to read our new columnist, Linda McDonald-Brown.