Lethal weapons, too: Mushrooms and wolves 

If you’re asking us, cautionary measures and rhyming bits of folk wisdom make for dangerous bedfellows. To wit: the matter of identifying the coral snake of the American southwest, which looks a lot like the harmless king snake, except its striped bands of color go in a different order. Black, red, yellow—a friendly fellow; red, yellow, black—not a friend of Jack! Or is a thusly striped snake a friendly fellow or a friend of Jack, respectively? And which side of the snake were these folk geniuses looking at, anyway? It’s easy to get these things confused.

It’s a little past prime morel-hunting season here in western Montana, but fungal neophytes enchanted by reports of easy pickins from their friends and neighbors might still do well to keep the following folk chestnut in mind as they beat around burned-over areas looking for a free dinner: If it ain’t hollow, do not swallow. The distinctive-looking morel is a relatively sure bet as far as mushrooms go, but reports still surface every year of people confusing it with its cigarette-smoking, black-leather-jacket-wearing “doppelgänger>, the false morel, and getting desperately sick—or dead—from it. The false morel bears a passable resemblance to some edible species and, although its poisonous capability can be largely reduced with careful cooking and drying, it’s not a fungus you want to try your luck with. False morels contain MMH, an acutely and cumulatively toxic compound chemically related to rocket fuel.

Checking for a hollow cap and stem is only the most cursory procedure for making certain you’ve got an edible morel on your hands. If you’re not absolutely sure of what you’re doing, do yourself a favor and buy your morels from a knowledgeable, reliable supplier—the guy dressed up like the Cat in the Hat, for instance.

Speaking of rhyming folk wisdom, though: you’re not still smarting about that time we advised you “Leaves of three—rub’n’see,” are you?

Speaking of all things wild and lethal, isn’t there some country and western ditty that goes, “You can take the wolf out of the wild, but you can’t take the wild out of the wolf?” The Magic Valley (Idaho) Ag Weekly reports this week that one of the wolves enrolled in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s “livestock aversion” training at Ted Turner’s ranch near Bozeman apparently fell off the wagon with a loud, resounding thump. In other words, he ate a calf. Since last summer the wolves have been fitted with “off-the-shelf” canine shock collars ordinarily used for dissuading the family Airdale from spritzing the vegetable patch. Whenever the wolves approach cattle, the collars deliver them a “minor” electrical shock in an attempt to dissuade them from attacking livestock, a program condemned by some animal rights groups as “unimaginably cruel.” Needless to say, these are wild critters that were taken from the Sheep Mountain wolf pack north of Yellowstone National Park, and dickering with several million years of evolutionary hard-wiring has proved a bit trickier than, say, launching your own 24-hour cable news network or getting your beagle to stop drinking out of the toilet. (Hint: Putting the lid down always helps.) No word yet on how well the other wolves are taking to their veal-free diet.

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