Things have been even weirder than usual in Florida this week, with freezing temperatures sweeping across the Sunshine State as part of the same winter storm system that recently “exploded” over the Northeast. Like Florida’s human population, the animals are not happy about it.
In Tampa Bay, manatees have congregated near a power station discharge canal that’s releasing heated water. In South Florida, cold-stunned “iguanacicles” are falling out of trees. And across the state, wildlife biologists are staging interventions for cold-shocked sea turtles floating listlessly near the shoreline.
Bay News 9 reports that Florida’s Gulf World Marine Institute rescued more than 80 sea turtles stunned by the cold earlier this week. And that may just be the beginning. Michelle Kerr, a spokesperson for Florida’s Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) told Earther state biologists have been dispatched to multiple locations, from St. Joe’s Bay in the northwest to Mosquito Lagoon south of Dayton Beach, to help sea turtles in need.
“Right now our staff are out in the field with tanks to rescue sea turtles that are experiencing cold stress and warm them up,” Kerr said, noting that danger sets in for the cold blooded animals when water temperatures drop below about 50 degrees Fahrenheit. If cold-stunned turtles aren’t warmed up quickly, the condition can lead to pneumonia and even death.
“If [the turtles] need to be rehabilitated, they’ll be taken to a rehab center,” Kerr added.
FWC is also keeping a close eye on Florida’s manatees, which congregate in warmer waters like power plant discharge canals and the state’s natural springs when temperatures drop below about 68 degrees Fahrenheit. The commission is asking that people avoid going near these manatee groups so as not to scare the animals back into chillier waters, where they can get sick and in some cases die.
Bird experts, like Audubon Florida wildlife biologist Marianne Korosy, are also on high alert. While it’s not unheard of for Florida to experience brief bouts of freezing weather, this week’s cold spell has crept unusually far south and been unusually persistent with much of South Florida experiencing near-freezing temperatures for the last two nights. For many of the birds that overwinter there, that can spell disaster for their food supply.
“Multiple nights below freezing kills insects and causes lizards and snakes to seek shelter or become stationary,” Korosy told Earther. “So it’s really hard for [many] birds to find food.” (Florida’s one endemic species of bird, the Florida scrub jay, is an exception: these smarties bury acorns in the fall so that they have a high protein food source when there aren’t as many insects around.)
Korosy noted that folks with backyards can help their feathered neighbors out by keeping bird feeders well-stocked on weeks like this. “It really helps the birds get the energy they need to survive.”
As for those who want to do something about the iguana popsciles in their backyards? You can put them in a box in your garage, but Korosy wouldn’t recommend leaving them there for too long, unless you’re planning to adopt one.
“When they’re cold and sedentary, it slows their metabolism and helps them survive, but they actually burn more energy when they warm up,” she said. “It’s not always a good idea to rescue wildlife.”