Roark: Roadkill

Published 2:48 pm Monday, October 16, 2023

By Steve Roark

Contributing Writer

Animals killed by automobiles are common in rural areas. Skunk, ‘possum, turtles, and more recently, armadillos, who have managed to work their way east into the American South. I recently saw a squashed aardvark in front of the McDonalds’ in Tazewell, Tennessee.

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Skunks are so bold due to their very effective odoriferous defense mechanism that they meet their end, thinking nothing can touch them. They are most likely to become victims during mating season in late winter when they are actively seeking mates.

Some creatures, such as flying insects, die due to the sheer number of them in the air simultaneously. One study estimated that around 228 trillion insects are killed by cars each year. That involves a lot of window cleaning.

In the U.S., vehicle collisions kill around one million vertebrate animals daily. Globally, the number is 5.5 million daily. There is a concern that cars are killing mountain lions faster than they can reproduce.

Please don’t think I’m heartless, but have you ever wondered why fast animals like squirrels and rabbits manage to let themselves get squashed?

Take squirrels, for example, they maneuver in treetops 70 feet in the air with grace and speed. They can evade cats, walk across skinny power lines, break into any squirrel-proof bird feeder and remember where they hid nuts six months ago. And yet, they have a hard time crossing the road safely. The reason is that squirrels and most animals, such as a car, can’t appraise high-speed movement coming at them. Nothing else in their life prepares them for that, and a car doesn’t register in their brains until it is too late.

One reason for high roadkill numbers is the enormous number of roads that break up the landscape into smaller and smaller parcels, forcing animals to cross roads at a higher and higher rate, upping the chances of being hit. Other things like road salt applied in winter turn a road into a salt lick, attracting many animal species to hang out on the road and inadvertently wait for death.

Steve Roark is a volunteer at Cumberland Gap Historical Park in east Tennessee.