Do you know anyone who isn’t invigorated by the recent rainfall? Gutters are gurgling, creeks are rushing, and the kids are breaking out their galoshes to stomp puddles in style! Critters and plants alike are busy soaking in the blessed moisture. This marvelous weather brings to mind some rain-related items to consider, for example, just what do woodland creatures do when it rains? For that matter, how do trees respond?
Trees are vital in our environment to aid in reducing runoff and erosion. Their mighty root systems help rainwater infiltrate the soil. Also, you may have noticed that the dusty cloak of moss that adorns the trunk is positively emerald now, as well as lavish in appearance after the prodigious precipitation. Have you made a note of the goldfinches, flickers, and blackbirds fluffing their feathers in newly formed puddles? All of their splashing, bathing, and preening aids in maintaining the condition of their many feathers so as to ensure the most favorable flight function. Their bills distribute oils that originate from glands near their tails. Earthworms seem to pop up like magic after a good rainstorm. This occurs because they breathe oxygen through their elongated, damp bodies. When their homes become super-saturated, they float up to breathe. Mammals such as coyotes or foxes stay sheltered during a storm, hiding out under outcrops and boulders. Western gray squirrels take refuge in cozy nests which they have constructed high up in trees. These resourceful critters use lichens, mosses, and twigs to construct their homes, or ‘dreys’ where they luxuriate under their plush, bushy tails that also protect them from being consumed by raptors.
Rain doesn’t always make it to Earth, and when it dries up in the atmosphere, it is called virga. Virga’s precipitation looks like a streak in the sky and is most often seen over deserts. Another form of strange rain is- no, not when it rains cats and dogs, but almost! The phenomenon called ‘animal rain’ is affiliated with waterspouts. Then, little rocks and fish can get caught up in the whirl-wind that forms over open bodies of water. The vortex, which can whirl up to 100 mph, then actually rains or drops fish, frogs, and sometimes birds and snakes from the sky! Here’s a fun fact I had my fourth-grade class try when I was teaching at Coyote Valley Elementary School: crickets have the ability to tell us the air temperature! We counted the cricket’s chirps, checked our weather thermometers, and sure enough, those little critters were correct! (Then we let the crickets have their freedom outside!)
What sort of weather would you experience if you lived on another planet? Raindrops on Venus are comprised of sulfuric acid, Saturn’s moon Titan rains methane, while Jupiter’s rains are made of helium. The size of raindrops on other worlds varies as well. While Earth’s gravitational pull is considered medium in strength, making our largest raindrops just over 11 mm or ½ inch in width, the weaker gravitational pull on Titan allows for a whopping 30 mm-wide drops to fall. One of the more fascinating forms of extraterrestrial precipitation is diamond drops that scientists believe form on Neptune and other gas giants! Astronomers and physicists have been researching the topic for dozens of years, and today, a paper published in Nature Astrophysics states that the gems form due to the gas giants’ hydrocarbon enriched oceans that form around the cores there. With the extreme pressures encountered at the cores of the gas giants, it is believed that molecules are split into hydrogen and carbon when the carbon then crystallizes into diamonds. Other unworldly rain ponderings are those found on earthsky.org, where it is explained that scientists are learning that alien forms of rain aid scientists in discovering the habitability of other planets.
Whether it’s a gully-washer here on Earth or a diamond downpour on Neptune, don’t forget your umbrella!