One of the battles property owners have to participate in is that of protecting development from wildlife. One of my favorite attributes of civilization is electricity – and that means it is also something at risk from threats of the wild. It is nowhere near uncommon for our power supply and systems to come under attack from animals – and not just those in our home, but also those that run our vehicles and maintain city utilities. Wildlife attacks on utilities like electricity, cable, phone, and internet services aren’t just limited to mice or rats either – squirrels, raccoons, rabbits, and a whole slew of insects such as ants, termites, cockroaches, and more. In fact, ants have become the number one electrical nuisance in Texas – they have shorted out stoplights and caused huge traffic jams, broken air conditioners, filled utility boxes, and made a habit of disrupting service all over for everyone.
Service professionals and home owners alike agree: there is little rhyme or reason as to why all kinds of animals from the teeniest tiniest ant to the largest, lumbering cow will make a meal of electrically charged wires. Domesticated animals such as pet rabbits, cats, or dogs are just as guilty as attic-invading vermin. Seismologists have seen grazing cows make a meal out of their wires, while electricians have sworn deer have nibbled at theirs. One thing is certain – electricity seems to not just attract but also affect nature in all sorts of ways.
Contrary to what your adorable nine year old might tell you, raccoons aren’t attacking your phone lines and squirrels aren’t taking out your power so that they can take over your home and have unlimited access to your pantry in the style of ‘Over The Hedge’ or ‘The Nut Job’. As a matter of fact, there are few of these electrically-invasive species that do perceive electricity and electronics as a food source. Doing damage to our systems and utilities often is a side-effect of other motivating factors.
There are whole species of animals who have also built an existence on being ‘electro-receptive’; that is, being specifically sensitive to electrical signals. Aside from a couple of insects and amphibians, the majority of them actually live underwater which makes sense when one considers its high conductivity. Sharks, dolphins, eels – these creatures and many more have developed specific sensors for picking up on minute electrical fields. This also enables electrolocation – finding things via those sensors. Scientists have proven that shark attack victims who are being actively rescued are more attractive to the shark because the shark is already homed in on their specific electrical signature, and bleeding into the water raises conductivity. This makes the victims electrical signal register even more strongly, reinforcing the sharks drive to attack their original target.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, bees carry an electrical charge with them – they are statically charged, and as they visit one flower and then another, they leave a charge on the flowers surface as well. Other bees can detect how much charge is on a flower and this tells them how much pollen is available for them to gather.
Africa’s lakes and rivers are filled with a whole family of fish that not only sense electric fields but generate them as well, using them to navigate, talk to each other, and even find the ‘perfect mate’.
Entomologists do recognize that insects are sensitive and reactive to electricity – but why and what it does varies from bug to bug. One of the urban myths or legends out there is that cockroaches will seek out your outlets and electronics because of the magnetic fields they generate. This is actually in inaccurate representation, as what the cockroaches are really attracted to is the warm, dark, confined space represented by your outlet, power strip, wireless modem, etc. Austin residents did get to witness a summer lightning storm that seemed to bring about a wild and crazy swarming of ‘Palmetto Bugs’, or flying tree roaches, agitated and excited by the wild electrical power.
The highest amount of documentation on insects attracted or responding to electricity is far and away on ants. Fire ants, an invasive species which became alarmingly aggressive and wide-spread throughout the south south-eastern states have reams of available data, thanks to Texas A&M’s Imported Fire Ant Research and Management Project. Several species of ants are apparently attracted to not just the magnetic field of electricity, but something about the frequency of AC (60Hz) is especially riveting. In an exposed or open electrical field, the ants tend to pause or freeze; when DC power is turned off, the ants simply continue on their way. When an AC power source is terminated, it takes the ants several moments to gather themselves and move on with their tasks. Worse yet – when an ant is electrocuted, it sends out danger and attack pheromones, which attracts the rest of the nest. If a single ant gets caught completing a circuit, it soon has summoned hundreds or thousands of its kin – which will overload the shorting circuit with their electrocuted bodies, and force it to fail. In addition, ants are known to take over transformer housings, digging up the supportive under soil and filling the box with dirt and moisture. All of these things combine to make their behavior dangerous and something to be watchful for; even if you do not have fire ants, there are a dozen other species just as problematic.
Domestic animals enjoy our electric cords and products; dogs are known for chewing power cords, cats for attacking computer cords, and rabbits apparently enjoy remote controls immensely. It’s easy to analyze the reasons they pursue our prized possessions; there are factors of instinct and genetic programming coming into play of course (I know why my cat chases my charger cord when I drag it across the floor) – but as our pets, they also have the desire to imitate our behavior; they want to play with us, and are curious about what it is we hold or handle or enjoy so much about these items. Yet we can use these opportunities to learn from their reactions – for example, while rabbits instinctively burrow, chew, and dig at things, they can also become interested in the texture of manmade items, or learn to like how it feels on their teeth. Likewise, a cat would never choose to chase a noisy stinky plastic hump in the wild – but watching you drag it across your desk is immeasurably powerful motivation for their hunting instincts.
Rodent behavior is easily observed – we know that squirrels, mice, rats, rabbits, and other small furry things have teeth that grow constantly. The need to grind down those teeth is overwhelming, and leads to experimental nibbling and biting at substances one might otherwise consider completely foreign – such as manmade petroleum and metal products that stink, hum, and zap. We also know that squirrels have a powerful affinity for metal objects, especially ones they consider ‘sweet’ tasting such as lead. Beyond these phenomena, empirical evidence becomes slim until we encounter the insect world – but why do raccoons, deer, or cows think wires are snacks? Ground wires being eaten by grazers makes sense when one considers that bovines aren’t particularly choosy, and that deer are far sighted animals with motion-activated vision. Is the truth that they really just aren’t paying attention and will chew anything tangled up in or on the ground? Is the reason behind rabbits eating Christmas lights and other electrical cords such as sprinkler wires nothing more than a fascination with rubber coatings and an urge to wear down their incisors?
Why are electrical wires a target for the wild world of nature? The world may never know. One thing we do know is that if we value the service wires provide, we will be responsible with them: protect them, monitor them, maintain them, and above all else – call a licensed electrician when we need help taking care of our electrical systems.
Swartz Electric – Your Colorado Springs Electrician performs electrical work throughout Colorado Springs, Monument, Black Forest, Fountain, Falcon, Woodland Park, and everywhere in between. We are the electricians in Colorado Springs to solve your electrical problems and meet your electrical requirements.
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This is an original article written by Mai Bjorklund for Swartz Electric. This article may not be copied whole or in part without the express permission of Swartz Electric, LLC.
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