Recent downpours have differing effects on local animals
Published: Thursday, July 4, 2013 at 6:46 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, July 4, 2013 at 6:46 p.m.
Although some areas of the county have water standing in pastures and roads pitted with potholes from the recent downpours, the amount of rain that fell in Marion County in June was less than normal.
According to David Holmes of the University of Florida's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences office in Marion County, which is headquartered in Ocala, the county had 6.38 inches of rain in June. The June average between 2000 and 2009 was 7.05 inches.
Consistent rains, such as those seen this week, not only alter human activities, they also alter how insects, reptiles, birds, fish and mammals live, roam, eat and sleep.
The most common farms animals in the county — horses and cattle — are relatively unaffected by heavy rains and often can take refuge in barns or open structures with roofs.
"Horses are a little bit different in that they have an opportunity for shelter," Holmes said. "If they are used to being out in the rain, it really doesn't bother them. They put their head down and do just fine. Hurricane Andrew showed us horses do better out in the open pasture than inside. Chances are far greater that they are in danger if they are in a barn."
Cattle tend to be the same way, and they often can be seen on farms and ranches soaking wet and apparently unfazed.
Mammals have their own internal radar and sensing when a storm is coming helps them take action, such as chowing down ahead of nasty weather.
"Barometer pressure drops when a storm is coming," said Scott Mitchell, Director of the Environmental Center and Museum at Silver River State Park. "With mammals being sensitive to barometer pressure, when it drops it triggers a feeding movement."
Mammals such as raccoons and armadillos will feed more than usual prior to a storm, and during bad weather will hunker down and not roam for food. Afterwards, they typically don't have to roam as far nor work as hard to get their food.
"The rain makes it easier to dig, and it also tends to bring earthworms up to the surface so it is easier for both to find food," said Bill Kern, associate professor of Entomology at the UF Research and Education Center in Gainesville.
For wild hogs, soggy ground makes it easier for them to roam.
"Wild hogs will be a little bit more wide ranging because they like wet, soggy ground; makes it easy for them to move," Mitchell said.
The ubiquitous deer seen in the area often disappear during rains.
"White tail deer are vagabonds. They are all over the place: swamp, sand hills, the dry woods, hammocks. During rain days deer are bedding down. Afterwards, deer will avoid wetter areas because of plentiful water around them," Mitchell said.
Most insects also know when rain is coming and are good at finding shelter, like fire ants that dig deeper into the ground. But some are vulnerable, such as chinch bugs, which can die if hit by a large enough rain drop.
Several days after periods of heavy rain are when one of the most annoying insects to humans is multiplying.
"Anywhere from four to 10 days after the rain, mosquitoes hatch eggs," Holmes said. "When the eggs get wet, it helps the egg develop. A mechanism in the eggs knows the water is there."
An increase in the spade toad population will also occur following frequent rainfall.
"They are known for explosive breeding," Kern said. "Adults spend most of their lives underground and only emerge after unusually heavy rains. When they emerge, they lay eggs in standing water. They have a fairly short tadpole stage and quickly develop into froglets."
Frogs that live above ground will congregate to residential areas with standing water in order to lay eggs. Moving away from ponds protects the eggs from being eaten by fish.
Ahead of incoming storms, fish also become very active, looking for food. During an active storm, fish tend to gather in a small area to wait out the chaos.
According to the National Weather Service, there is a 40 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms after noon today, with a high near 92 and southeast winds 5 to 13 mph. The showers and thunderstorms may continue into early evening.
On Saturday, expect a 40 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms, mainly after 3 p.m., dropping to 30 percent in the evening, with a low around 74.
Sunday should be sunny, with a 20 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms and a high near 92, with an evening low around 73 degrees and a 50 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms.