What organisms have you been surprised to discover that people are unfamiliar with?

Hah, I had a similar experience yesterday with people who had no idea about cicadas! I caught a beautiful cicada in the grass and was holding it perched on my finger while I fumbled for my camera to take a picture. The people I was with had no idea what a cicada was, and when I explained that they’re the source of that daytime buzzing we hear in the trees this time of year, one said she had been wondering what bird makes that noise. The other said she had never noticed the noise until I pointed it out. Don’t people ever go outside?

(At least they admired the cicada, which sat placidly on my finger for a while.)

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Most folks that call those noisy summer-time insects in the trees ‘locusts’ never heard of the name cicada.

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I am constantly amazed at how out of touch most people are with nature. Living in Southern California where people are outdoors more you would think more people would be aware. About the only wild animal most people seem familiar with is the coyote. And I’m constantly amazed how many people think owls are a danger to their pet dogs and cats. Perhaps this lack of familiarity with nature is what has the planet in such bad shape aside from the greed of countries to exploit every resource and develop every square inch of earth.

Another area where people seem woefully lacking in knowledge is with bees. They think there is only one bee…the western honey bee and here in California we have hundreds of species of native bees. When I told someone that recently, they asked where their hives were.

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Garter snakes. Granted, people are pretty ignorant about snakes in general (half of them will think Storeria dekayi is a baby copperhead, the other half will pick up an actual baby copperhead and ask if it’s poisonous) but garters are SO common, across so much of North America, that I’m always surprised when people don’t know them already. They’re literally “backyard snakes” to many of us.

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Here in Tasmania I most commonly receive blank looks from the word “Mallard” and sometimes even “native duck.” Environmental education is very poor in Australia, to the point most people don’t know there is such a thing as a native duck, and that all ducks are just those funny birds to feed bread too. I’ve received blank looks from common species like “Pacific Black Duck” and “Chestnut Teal.”

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In NZ, every native plant except about three.

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If a yellowjacket comes into a room, you can be sure that someone will freak out saying that they are allergic to bees.

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A 2005 survey at an English field centre found “86% of A-level biology students (A-levels are the last school exams before going to university, so 17-18 year olds) could only name three or fewer common wild flowers. 41% could only name one or less”. And their teachers weren’t much better.

A 2002 survey in England found children could identify more Pokemon characters than native British wildlife.

https://www.ecos.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/ECOS-35-2-2-Navigating-nature.pdf

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My favorite is how many people ask how to get rid of the grackles but on asking a couple of questions, you realize that most of these people have starlings. Somehow, in spite of the birds looking totally different, the words starling and grackle became euphemisms.

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How often people are shocked that there are a lot more bees than Honey Bees and Bumble Bees. This wouldn’t be so bad, but I run into people who think non-honey bees are just “icky bees” (yes I had someone say that)
Not knowing that there are about a dozen native sparrows that turn up in yards. Again, wouldn’t be so bad if so many people didn’t have a stigma against the word sparrow.
One fun issue that I get with this is when people see something that is completely new to them they try to figure it out and are sometimes completely wrong, I’ve got some good ones for what people ID’d their pictures as. Regrettably, this means I tend to not believe people when they tell me something they saw.
On the other hand, I had people figure out that they had White-winged Crossbills or Spotted Towhees at their midwest feeders, or my favorite, Northern Shrike in their midwest suburban backyard.

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Why Passerellidae are even called sparrows and not buntings? Not true ones, but they live lives in bunting style. I never got that, so I was really confused by the topic for “World Sparrow Day” which is really about Passer and people naming all kinds of non-related birds who happened to be named sparrow in English.

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Sometimes I lurk on r/whatsthatbug on reddit to get a sense of what insects have piqued the interest of the general public. iNaturalist is amazing and all, but is heavily skewed by having many dedicated naturalists around.

It is eye-opening and a little scary when people cannot recognize what cockroaches and carpet beetles are as these crop up every day, if not every hour.

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I don’t think I want to deal with the confusion of people who already think Indigo Buntings are finches, also have White-throated Buntings, Chipping Buntings, and Fox Buntings.

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I just want to see the logic behind such naming, they don’t even look like sparrows, for sure each group should have own name.

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It’s probably along the same lines as the American Robin vs the European Robin (I don’t actually know if that’s the correct name). The American version is a Thrush and I think the European version is an Old World Flycatcher?
Or Blackbirds, the American versions are New World Blackbirds while the European version is I think a Thrush? But in both cases, not similar. No idea why. I guess there is something to be said for using the scientific names even with birds.

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Well, you know that like 15 years ago most of flycatchers were in Turdidae, so it’s kinda ok for people to name red bird the same name (I’d say both names are just called robins, an if European is used it’s definitely a new addition). Blackbirds are black, so I get it too. Sparrows on the other hand, they don’t even look like Passerellidae.

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People are completely surprised when I tell them
I have seen a fluorescent green bee on the weeds right next to their house. Everyone expects bees in black and yellow.

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Well sort of, orioles and meadowlarks are also blackbirds. New World Sparrows look pretty different from each other, it’s always fun to see peoples expression when I tell them that Towhees and Juncos are also sparrows (but House Sparrows aren’t related).

Actually, I usually know when the towhees arrive when someone comes in in late march or april excitedly telling me about the oriole that showed up (sorry not for another month). What surprises me is how often people are disappointed that they didn’t get an oriole, I’m thinking, man you got a bird you never saw before and you’re disappointed it wasn’t another bird that you see every d___ year!?!

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In pre-iNaturalist days I was once giving someone directions and I said “It’s by that big Sycamore Tree”. I assumed people would know an American Sycamore tree and these two people looked at me like I was speaking another language and were like “How would we know what kind of tree it is?”

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And I don’t think I was crazy. It was one of those huge and unmistakable sycamores that I assumed everyone else stopped to admire sometimes