With hurricane season approaching in September, Florida residents start preparing. You and your beloved pets have options to avoid storms or ride them out in a sturdy shelter. But have you ever wondered how the wild animals survive hurricanes? Unable to build brick shelters for themselves, most have no choice but to endure whatever nature unleashes upon them.
As a nature preserve, we at Forever Florida often wish we could round up all the creatures on our property before severe weather hits. In practical terms, though, we know our animals must fend for themselves. Sadly, hurricanes often take the lives of many wild animals. Fortune blesses the survivors, but the unfortunate perish. Nevertheless, some species do enjoy a few options for survival.
Sometimes fish sense the coming storm and move out to open waters or down the coastline away from danger. If they can’t make it in time —or no instinct instructs them to do so — they can find themselves airborne and coming down on the land. Or, storm surges may float them inland, then leave them stranded during the backwash. Also, saltwater may encroach into the freshwater habitats, and vice versa, leaving fish species struggling to survive.
Some birds react to the severe drop in barometric pressure such that it triggers an instinct to migrate earlier than they otherwise would. They simply take flight until they’re past the danger zone. Other, non-migratory species, remain in their familiar habitat, clinging to tree limbs for dear life as the wind and rain whip through. Sometimes, they seek shelter in urban areas, roosting on the lee side of buildings.
Birds, such as woodpeckers, that nest in tree hollows usually stay home in their arbor apartment, and if the wind fails to uproot the tree, they fare just fine.
Alligators will look for overhanging shelter in which to hunker down during a strong storm. Riverbanks and fallen logs offer a comfortable hangout during a hurricane. When on the margins of human/alligator habitats, though, they also love to find safe harbor under porches and decks. So, beware if you live close to the natural home of alligators. Tread carefully when inspecting the storm damage around your house.
Turtles, reptiles, and mammals that make their home or breeding nests in the ground may suffer the most. They have no means to move out of a storm’s path. While they take refuge in their underground shelters, heavy rains and storm surges can eventually flood them out. If they’re lucky, they can catch a raft of debris and ride it to ultimate safety. In 1995, a group of iguanas successfully floated across the Caribbean Sea from Guadeloupe to Anguilla, some 168 miles, then set up housekeeping on their new island.
Dolphins and manatees can swim further out to sea to avoid getting washed ashore. But they don’t always move in time. The 2016 flooding from Hurricane Hermine deposited a group of manatees on a Florida golf course. Fortunately, humans rushed to their rescue.
Large Land Mammals
Deer and other larger land mammals might evacuate the area when they feel the barometric pressure drop. As long as people leave them unmolested, they can survive hurricanes more readily than many other creatures. Bears have been known to ride out hurricanes under piles of downed trees.
In the Aftermath
Once a particularly powerful hurricane blows itself out, often it can leave behind a bouillabaisse of displaced animal and plant species. As the iguana raft demonstrates, hurricanes often redistribute wildlife and even flora. Species unknown to an area may suddenly appear after a violent storm. The animals may eventually make their way back to their normal stomping grounds, but plants have no means to do the same. They may survive and take up residency wherever they land, which accounts for some invasive vegetation along the coasts.
Florida hosts many hardy species of wild animals. Whether they blew in on a hurricane or evolved here, Forever Florida provides a safe home where you can come observe them for yourself. We invite you to take advantage of our zip lines, riding horses, and trail buggy to see the creatures that make our preserve their domain.