Hurricanes are part of the natural environment to which wildlife have adapted: Species and habitats typically can rebound quickly after a storm passes through, and some species even flourish in the storm aftermath. However, increasingly intense storms will likely make it more difficult for regions and wildlife to bounce back.
The toll these disastrous storms have on communities and families, and ecosystems and wildlife is almost unfathomable. While human impacts are the most visible and tragic, we are also concerned about the effects on wildlife and habitat that often go unseen, unnoticed and forgotten.
Right now, wildlife rehabilitators in Florida are bracing for a flood of injured animals and there are already reports of how Hurricane Harvey has impacted wildlife. As alligators, rattlesnakes and deer seek higher ground, some are encountering people (though there are also some hoaxes going viral). An injured, exhausted and desperate hawk took refuge in a taxicab.
A reporter spotted fire ants banding together to float out the storm.
To really get the big picture of the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey in Texas, consider that state is home to a diverse array of flora and fauna, including imperiled species. Texas is home to 30 threatened and endangered plant species and 76 species of threatened and endangered animals including jaguars, jaguarundis, ocelots and the Houston toad. Many of these plants and animals were incapable of escaping the storm’s path and are holed up in areas now flooded by the torrential rains.
Looking to Florida, animals who are able to flee the high-speed winds and inundating rainfall of Hurricane Irma could also find their habitats affected by flooding. “The advice I would give people now is the same advice I usually give: A little common sense goes a long way,” David Steen, a reptile expert and assistant research professor at the Auburn University Museum of Natural History, told the Washington Post. “Be conscious of where you put your hands and feet and do not try to mess with animals,” he said. “Getting in a fight with you is really low on the list of a snake or alligator’s priorities right now. They’re trying to get through the storm, too.”
It’s not all bad news, though—there are some species of plants and animals that can thrive after hurricanes:
Orchids – They use the strong winds to spread their seeds.
Gopher frogs and spadefoot toads – They use the heavy rainfall to breed.
Raccoons – Since they are scavengers, they find new food sources in the turmoil after a hurricane.
Black bears and ground birds – They can benefit from increased ground shelter created by downed trees and brush.
Photo credit: International Fund for Animal Welfare