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Date of Issue: March 30, 2005

Sandscript

Critters are coming - right into your very own bed

It looks like critters are taking over our human world. Here are a few pet tales for you wags to wonder about.

Pet-owner sleepovers

About 40 percent of dogs now sleep in bed with their owners, up from 34 percent in 1998, according to the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association. Apparently it's not all that unusual and historically something that has taken place since we lived in cold caves and huddled with half-wild dogs for warmth.

I've got a buddy who often refers to those extra-cold evenings as a "three-cat night" in bed: remember that an average pet temperature is about 103 degrees, so they tend to throw out a lot of heat.

Dog sleep patterns at night vary. Some breeds, those bred to burrow for varmints like terriers and dachshunds, will tend to race down to the foot of the bed under the covers to spend the night quietly cocooned. Others will perch at the foot of the bed, alert for any strange noise.

There are some problems, of course. The Mayo Clinic reports that 22 percent of the patients they treat in their sleep disorder center are awake due to their pets being in bed with them. Cat owners are especially prone to being awakened by their nocturnal prowling bed buddies, who like to roam the house or dream of chasing little critters. All that movement makes for a restless night.

And then there's the snoring. The folks at the Mayo Clinic report that 21 percent of dogs and 7 percent of cats snore. There are also flea problems, shedding problems ... but all that is nothing for a loving pet owner and his or her darling little Muffy or Spot.

Indian Ocean animals take to the hills

A few buddies pointed out that there were virtually no dead animals seen in any of the footage from the tsunami that killed more than 150,000 people in the rim of the Indian Ocean Dec. 26. Another of those urban legends, perhaps?

Nope. According to a news article in the Washington Post, an environmentalist in Indonesia said the wildlife impact by the big waves was "limited."

Packs of dogs raced away from shore to upland areas way before the tsunamis hit. In Sri Lanka's Yala National Park, hundreds of critters - from elephants to monkeys, deer to water buffalo, leopards to snakes - sped from the low-lying areas.

In southern India, mating flocks of flamingoes took to the sky well before the water rose and inundated the region.

And in western Thailand, elephants broke their chains to reach high ground more than an hour before the tsunami waves arrived and devastated the region.

Scientists believe that animals have a hyper sensitivity to sound and vibrations and that the massive earthquake that caused the tsunami quite literally shook the animals' world.

Elephants are particularly sensitive to vibrations. Scientists have noted that the big animals are known to lay their trunks down on the ground to apparently "feel" for vibrations and can even figure out from which direction the problem emanates, hence their decision to run in the opposite direction.

Perhaps the oft-talked of tsunami early warning system should just be a few elephants scattered around the shoreline - intensively monitored, of course.

Dog show this weekend

The AKC/Eukanuba National Championship dog show will be held in Tampa this weekend, with the show presented live on television on the Animal Planet network starting at 8 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. More than 2,400 animals are entered in the show, which will be held at the Tampa Convention Center and at the St. Pete Times Forum.

The doors open at 8 a.m. for anyone who wants to go see all the mutts, with tickets at $25 for both days or $18 for a one-day admission.

For more information, go to www.akc.org.

Giant rats are coming?!

Yet another exotic, invasive species is threatening Florida.

The African Gambian pouch rat has infested the lower Florida Keys and scientists are fearful the big rodent may make its way to Key Largo and then to the Everglades.

The rat is sort of a 800-pound gorilla in the rodent family, growing to 9 pounds and reaching the size of a small raccoon. They eat almost everything including the eggs of the endangered native silver rice rat, and they're so big that birds of prey aren't interested in them.

Cats just look at them with their ears down, according to reports, then skulk away.

There apparently is a solid report of a breeding colony of the rats on Grassy Key and unconfirmed reports of the animals on Key Largo. Apparently eight rats were released five years ago, and have been having up to four litters every nine months, with up to six offspring in each litter. Wildlife experts have no idea how many rats may be out there now.

The rats are also apparently very friendly around other critters, too, although the males will fight each other. They are described at making "great pets," and somebody probably thought that eight rats were too many to have around the house and let them go out in the wild.

Oh, and they got their name because of the pouches in their cheeks in which they stuff food, making them look like some little fat-faced furry friend that has been described as "charming." Jeez, just what we need, a charming exotic rat that is threatening the ecosystem of the Everglades.

Florida's exotic wildlife

According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, an exotic species is "one that was introduced by human activity and is free-ranging in an area to which it was not native in pre-Columbian times."

There are 277 reported exotic critter species in the state. Of that total, 24 species are expanding, 12 species are stable, eight species are declining, 188 species have unknown population levels, and 44 species have no current population.

At last some good news: Of the critters that are breeding, 102 species have been breeding at least 10 years but not necessarily consecutive years, 23 less than 10 years and 150 species are not reported breeding in the wild in Florida.

However, 60 species have established themselves with solid breeding populations for more than 10 years, 14 species are present and breeding but for less than 10 years, 97 species are present but not confirmed to be breeding, which means the   population persists only with repeated introductions or escapes of individuals.

And they're everywhere in our 67 counties in Florida, with 17 species statewide, five species occur in 51-66 counties, seven species occur in 21-50 counties, 10 species occur in 11-20 counties, 30 species occur in six-10 counties, 104 species occur in two to five counties, and 99 species occur in one county.

Sandscript factoid

In Manatee County, we've got our share of exotics, including:

Giant Toad, Bufo marinus; Cuban Treefrog, Osteopilus septentrionalis; Brown Anole lizard, Anolis sagrei; Mediterranean Gecko, Hemidactylus turcicus; Indo-Pacific Geck, Hemidactylus garnotii; Bibron's Gecko, Pachydactylus bibroni; Scarlet Ibis bird, Eudocimus ruber; Greater Flamingo, Phoenicopterus ruber; Muscovy Duck, Cairina moschata; Common Peafowl, Pavo cristatus; Ring-necked Pheasant, Phasianus colchicus; Rock Dove, Columba livia; Eurasian Collared-Dove, Streptopelia decaocto; White-winged Dove, Zenaida asiatica; Peach-faced Lovebird parrot, Agapornis roseicollis; Red-crowned Parrot, Amazona viridigenalis; Blue-crowned Parakeet, Aratinga acuticaudata; White-winged Parakeet, Brotogeris versicolurus; Yellow-chevroned Parakeet, Brotogeris chiriri; Budgerigar Melopsittacus undulatus; Monk Parakeet, Myiopsitta monachus; Black-hooded Parakeet, Nandayus nenday.

Also Cockatiel, Nymphicus hollandicus; House Sparrow, Passer domesticus; European Starling, Sturnus vulgaris; Nine-banded Armadillo, Dasypus novemcinctus; Feral Dog, Canis familiaris; Coyote, Canis latrans; Feral Cat, Felis catus, Jaguarundi, Herpailurus yagouaroundi; Red Fox, Vulpes vulpes; Feral Pig, Sus scrofa; House mouse, Mus musculus; Black Rat, Rattus rattus; and the Norway Rat, Rattus norvegicus.

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