The Nov. 17 issue of Science News contained a lengthy article on worldwide weather conditions, pointing out areas where extremes in weather have occurred and continue to occur beginning in 2011. The prevailing consensus is that global warming is responsible, but can not be proven conclusively as the reason for the droughts in some areas and excessively heavy rainfall in others. A map of areas in North America suffering from drought as of last August piqued my interest. In the lower Southeast, areas plagued by extreme or exceptional drought were eastern central Alabama and central and southwestern Georgia.

Other drought-stricken areas were in northern Arkansas, a large portion of the Midwest, and some places in the Rocky Mountain states. The National Weather Service in Birmingham stated on Nov. 9th that the following counties in Alabama in which rain was “desperately needed “ were Clay, Cleburne, Coosa, Lee, Shelby, Randolph, Talladega, and Tallapoosa. Chambers County was not mentioned, but it should have been.

A few months ago climatologists predicted that an El Nino would develop, resulting in heavier rainfall during winter and spring in the Southeast. They now say that El Nino will ultimately affect our weather, but is developing more slowly than they earlier predicted.

Meanwhile, I’m beginning to see a few sickly looking hardwood trees on my property, some of which may not survive. The only critters that benefit from dying and dead hardwood trees are wood-boring insects, betsy beetles, termites, woodpeckers, and a few other cavity-nesting birds. We all should pray that an El Nino will soon replace the La Nina that has dominated our weather for the past several years.

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A few nights ago, I watched an hour-long TV documentary produced by Nat Geo Wild on coyotes. It showed coyotes roaming around in cities in California, New York, New Jersey, and in downtown Chicago.

Residents were complaining that the coyotes were preying on small dogs and house cats, and, in one instance, attacking a three year old child. Several other attacks on humans were reported, most in California. In 2009, a 19-year-old woman was attacked by a coyote in a forested area in Nova Scotia, resulting in her death. This is the only human fatality caused by a coyote ever reported. Coyotes inhabiting the Northeast and adjacent Canadian provinces are larger and reportedly more aggressive than their western and southern counterparts. DNA analyses and skeletal characteristics indicate they have undergone hybridization with wolves.

One reason coyotes are increasingly occurring in urban areas is because food is more readily available in many cities and towns than it is in rural areas. Discarded garbage, rats, squirrels, house cats, and pet food left outside attract coyotes, and in some places, people deliberately feed coyotes. Feeding coyotes can cause the animals to become less fearful of humans and more likely to become nuisances. Providing food for coyotes, either purposely or leaving uneaten pet food outside is discouraged as is improperly disposing of garbage.

Reports of missing house cats in some areas of Auburn lead some to believe that coyotes are responsible for their disappearance. Owners should keep their cats indoors, especially at night, when coyotes are most active.

Ideally, the City of Auburn would have a cat leash law in place, similar to the one imposed on dog owners. Some might argue that cats can not be taught to be led on leashes, but if they can be trained to relieve themselves in a commode, surely they can learn to be led on leashes.

The city of Montevallo requires a $10 annual license for each dog and cat owned, and a “leash law” is in effect for all dogs and cats. Alexander City has an ordinance allowing free-ranging cats considered nuisances to be trapped and held in its animal shelter. The owner of such a cat must pay a fee to have it released. There may be other cities with “cat laws” I don’t know about.

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A neuroscientist, Fiona Crawford, studying brain-injured mice, reported that treating them with the chemical anatabine had the effect of curbing harmful inflammation resulting from their injury. Crawford suggested that soldiers, athletes, and others at risk of head injuries may benefit from taking anatabine as a preventive. Anatabine occurs naturally in tomatoes and tobacco, and is an ingredient in some dietary supplements. (Science News, Nov. 12)


Bob Mount is a Professor Emeritus with the Dept of Zoology and Entomology, Auburn Univ. He is also chairman of the Opelika Order of Geezers, well-known local think tank and political clearing house. He writes about birds, snakes, turtles, bugs and assorted conservation topics.