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A cold week for Florida critters, too

Kristen Aanerud, left, and Susan Coy give much-needed medical care to a loggerhead sea turtle Friday at the Florida Aquarium in Tampa after it beached itself because of too cold water.

DANIEL WALLACE | Times

Kristen Aanerud, left, and Susan Coy give much-needed medical care to a loggerhead sea turtle Friday at the Florida Aquarium in Tampa after it beached itself because of too cold water.

A young manatee was rescued from a St. Petersburg drainage canal where it had gone to stay warm.

Hundreds of sea turtles were found along Florida's east coast, stunned stiff by the cold.

Immobilized iguanas have been dropping from South Florida trees.

It's not just human Floridians who are wimps in this weather. The stretch of record temperatures has taken its toll on our critters, too.

But except for certain sea life and cold-blooded reptiles, animals are better equipped to handle a big chill, experts say.

When it was 40 degrees in Tampa Sunday, "the elephants were outside playing in their unheated pool," said Lowry Park Zoo spokeswoman Rachel Nelson. "Clearly, it wasn't troubling them much."

For animals native to Florida, such as panthers, alligators, deer, quail and most birds, "it's not an issue at all," said Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission spokesman Gary Morse.

"They may shiver a little, but they're generally good at finding warm spots," Morse said. "They're not like people. … They survived because their genetics adapted to this."

The manatee is one animal that cannot withstand the cold: one can die if exposed to water below 68 degrees. The manatee rescued near the Target on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and 77th Avenue was in 53-degree water.

Biologists think it might have been the 7-foot female's first winter away from mom, said the wildlife commission's Carli Segelson. It was taken to Lowry Park Zoo for treatment.

The Clearwater Aquarium, Sarasota's Mote Marine Laboratory and Florida Aquarium took in sea turtles found floating or listless on the shoreline. Although the turtles may seem dead, they are often still alive, and the wildlife commission urges people to call 1-888-404-FWCC (3922) if they see one.

Iguanas are also famous for appearing dead as they rain from trees in cold weather, though they are actually just stunned like the turtles and lose their grip.

Nonnative tropical fish, such as tilapia and armored catfish, will die when exposed to cold water for days, Morse said, but that's not necessarily a bad thing.

"The natural environment benefits from these cold fronts, knocking back the population of some of these nonnative fish," he said.

As for cats and dogs and other domestic pets, they should be brought indoors, said Connie Brooks, the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Tampa Bay's director of operations. But most experts agree that a couple of freezing days probably won't kill them.

But some experts advise pounding on your hood before starting your car, just in case a neighborhood cat has sought shelter from the cold in your engine.

"If you look around the zoo, look at the people in coats and scarves, clutching cups of coffee and hot chocolate, but then goodness, the zebras just trotting about," Nelson said. "They think it's fine. It's all about your perspective."

Emily Nipps can be reached at nipps@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8452.

A cold week for Florida critters, too 01/08/10 [Last modified: Friday, January 8, 2010 11:12pm]
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