Would you know what to do if you heard scratching from the wall or thumps in the ceiling? Your quick reaction could mean the difference between the life or death of an animal(s) and whether there is damage to property from the animal’s activities or from its decomposition.
If you didn’t hear animal activity until March –April –May, we can guarantee there are babies in the attic. Even if you don’t hear babies –they are there.
The first step in dealing with an animal incursion is to determine the species of animal. Many techniques are common across the board, but a faster solution can be reached if you know what you are dealing with.
Rats and mice sound like a scratching that moves along the perimeter of the room or up and down walls. Inspection of the attic will reveal droppings against a vertical surface. Rats and mice show an extremely strong preference to move along walls. Mice will leave dropping that are half the length of an uncooked grain of rice, rats will leave a dropping that is as large as a cooked grain of rice or larger. It is important to know what size rodent you are dealing with.
Many believe that rat poison is a “no muss, no fuss” solution. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is a gruesome death as the animal bleeds out internally. The mythology is that rats eat the bait, then leave in search of water.
The problem is that they often don’t leave and if they die in an enclosed space, the stench and subsequent clean up is mind-blowing and can be expensive in that sometimes the surrounding structure has to be removed and replaced to rid the building of the smell.
Even if they do leave, you are not out of the woods –your dog, cat or a wild animal could eat poisoned rat or mouse and die. Hawks, eagles and vultures are particularly vulnerable. Babies who nurse off of a poisoned mother prior to her death can suffer severe neurologic damage or death.
Glue traps are especially cruel and often don’t kill. If not placed in an attic they can often capture unintended animals like birds and small snakes. Surviving victims can be removed with a vegetable, baby or mineral oil.
So –what do you do? First, make sure that you are dealing with mice or rats. Select the proper size snap trap and place them along the wall where the droppings were found. Be sure to check the traps daily.The Wildlife Center of Texas is loath to recommend lethal methods, but with respect to rats and mice in a habitation, there really is no other option. They won’t leave because they are harassed like raccoons will and they are extremely difficult to live trap. Once the attic is free of mice and rats it is time to turn your attention to finding and closing all possible entrance points.
O.K., so you’ve determined that the bump wasn’t caused by a rat or mouse –now what? Look for possible points of entrance and sprinkle flour or baby powder in the vicinity to capture paw prints. Now you know what you are up against.
Squirrels have a central pad like a dog or cat and five toes on the front feet and four on the back feet. The back feet have two additional small pads behind the central pad.
Raccoon front feet look like little human hands tipped in claws, the back feet have five toes and an elongated heel.
Opossum front feet have five toes which blend into the central pad. The back feet are unique in that they have 4 toes and a fully opposable thumb. The thumb will be at 90 degrees or more perpendicular to the toes.
The opossum is probably the most unfairly maligned of God’s creatures. They are a major component of the ecosystem. Personally, if we could choose only one animal for my backyard –I would select an opossum. They are the environment’s housekeepers. They keep the world clean by eating everything in its path. If you are feeding animals outside, they will clean that up too. In fact, you’ll probably see your cat sharing its bowl with the neighborhood cat..
Opossums and dogs don’t generally have such a good relationship. However, I’ve never seen an opossum that won that contest. Despite their toothy snarl and intimidating growl, they are almost all bark and no bite. They will bite if molested, but I’ve never known one to attack unprovoked.
While not the most beautiful of God’s creatures, the opossum grooms constantly like a cat. So they are very clean and carry very few parasites (like fleas). In addition, because their body temperature is lower than other mammals, they carry very few diseases that can infect humans or their domestic pets. Don’t like venomous snakes? The opossum is the only backyard animal that routinely hunt snakes AND venomous snakes. They show such a strong resistance to venom that researchers are working on an opossum derived “anti-lethal” factor that shows potential of protecting against venom (multiple types), bacteria and virus.
The opossum is our only marsupial. Babies are born in an almost embryonic state. They have to negotiate the distance from the birth canal to the pouch unassisted. The Wildlife Center of Texas considers a baby opossum to be large enough to be on its own with it is 9 inches from the nose to the base of the tail.
Raccoons can often be pestered into moving when their area is invaded by your presence, light, sound and odors. The idea is to make the current location as inhospitable as possible. Audio and visual repellents only work only for the short-term. If possible use motion or infrared sensors to activate noise and lights. Any animal can figure out that something that normally would scare them -won’t -if it doesn’t move or change. This is why pigeons eventually will take roost on the fake owl that is supposed to scare them away. Some report success with artificial predator urine (available in stores that sell hunting supplies) and cat or dog fur. One interesting idea is to tie a shoebox to a string and throw it across the attic, then reel it in across the rafters. In short make life as difficult as possible to encourage the raccoon to move.
If the incursion happens in the spring or summer, please keep in mind that there are probably innocent babies involved. If trapping and release is being considered, please take into account that the babies will suffer. Consider delaying the removal of the adults until the babies can fend for themselves. Our knowledgeable volunteers and staff can give advice and instruction on how to handle specific situations.
No animal incursion can be successfully stopped until the entry points are closed. Again our volunteers and staff are an invaluable resource.
This fall take a few minutes to inspect your home. Helpful tools include a ladder and a pair of binoculars. In addition to the obvious holes, examine exhaust pipes that penetrate the roof to see if mice or rats are lifting the flashing to gain entrance. Examine the attic for signs of animal habitation. Sometimes droppings or disturbed insulation will give clues to where the animal is getting in.
Animal incursions are the perfect example of “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”.
The animal that is most frequently live-trapped is the lowly opossum. Why? We’re not sure. They are wonderfully beneficial and have very few bad habits. Don’t like snakes, especially venomous snakes? Then don’t evict the opossum; it is eating the snakes that would otherwise be living there. A opossum call usually goes something like this:
I have a opossum under my deck and I want it trapped and taken away.
Why do you want to get rid of it, what’s it doing?
Well, it’s not doing anything except driving the dog crazy. Besides it’s a big, ugly, nasty rat like thing and I just want it GONE!
Wow! O.K., first, let me give you some reasons why you should be happy there’s a opossum under your deck, and then if you still want to relocate it, I’ll help you do that. It’s under your deck for a reason, probably because it feels safe and there’s plenty of prey either under there with it or very close by. Do you have a problem with snakes or mice?
Great! The opossum is doing its job. If you relocate it, there will be no one there to eat the opossum’s prey. In addition to snakes and mice it eats lots of insects, especially grubs, so you could also have increased plant damage.
But it’s incredibly ugly and looks like it could be carrying a host of diseases.
Yes, I agree they’re exceptionally ugly. However, opossums are very clean animals even if they have a coat that often looks unwashed. Like cats, they are constantly cleaning themselves. As for disease, their body temperature is slightly lower than other mammals and it is believed that while they might occasionally fall prey to an illness, they do not transmit disease.
Sometimes I see it out in the middle of the day, doesn’t that mean that it’s sick?
Probably not. Nocturnal doesn’t mean that they never come out during the day. Young animals are often seen out exploring and adults will sometimes shift feeding time if they learn the cat food is only available during the morning.
Well, it sometimes scares me when I go into my backyard, it shows me every tooth in its mouth and hisses at me. It stands its ground and is so aggressive I just know it’s going to bite me one day.
Despite the fact that the opossum’s defense display is ferocious, it almost never attacks. Instead, it runs or “plays dead”. The fainting reflex (which can last an hour or more) is often accompanied by the release of a musk like substance that makes it smell dead too.
A couple more questions may follow and at that point, the caller usually decides to let the opossum remain under the deck, or they are too embarrassed to admit that they still want it gone. I prefer to believe that they are going to coexist happily ever after.
Raccoons are our problem children. The problem is that God gave them too much dexterity to go with their superior brainpower and insatiable curiosity. The triple whammy of intelligence, dexterity and curiosity make them a difficult animal to deal with effectively. Raccoon problems usually cannot be solved in a day, so prevention is the key to dealing with nuisance raccoons. Please note the word “nuisance”, the goal is not to rid your end of the world of raccoons (or any other animal), the goal is to manage them in such a way that conflict is minimized
Raccoons can remove nuts from bolts and strong enough to turn on the water spigot should they be so inclined. Remember baby proofing your house? Well, coon proofing your house and yard will require that the same mindset and perseverance.
Garbage can lids are a piece of cake for an inquisitive raccoon, secure by running a rope or bungee from one handle to the other, make sure you pass it through the handle on the lid. To prevent toppling of the can, place the can in some kind of anchored rack or tie it to the fence.
If they are raiding an ornamental goldfish pond, provide the fish adequate shelter by sinking two or more concrete blocks or chimney liners in the deep end.
Don’t leave anything edible outside overnight. If raccoons are raiding bird feeders, bring them in at night. Don’t leave seed, dog or cat food outside even if it is in a container.
The most panicked phone calls often involve snakes. Should you find the skin of a snake, first check to see if the snake is venomous. How? The number of belly plates will tell you. If there is a single belly plate then there is no reason to be concerned, the snake in non-venomous. It is doing you a favor by ridding your yard of mice, rats and other small animals.
If the snake has two belly plates, it is better to be safe than sorry, please exercise caution until the fate of the snake is known. There are not many snakes that den in one area for extended periods of time, so by the time you notice the skin it has probably already moved on. If it hasn’t, the snake can be encouraged to move on by exposing the hiding area or shining bright lights into the area. To make sure that the snake has moved on, spread baby powder, flour or cornstarch around where the skin was found and other likely hiding spots. In the morning you should be able to see if a snake has crossed the area.
O.K., so what if you see a snake instead of having a skin to examine at your leisure? Almost everyone knows that venomous snakes have a triangular head; the shape is necessary to accommodate the venom sacs. The glaring exception to this rule is the coral snake; a rhyme will help you decide if the snake is a coral snake imitator or the real deal. Red against yellow kill a fellow, red against black venom lack.
A good trait to look for is the size of the body with respect to its tail. You probably never thought of a snake having a tail, but it does. For the typical two-foot snake, the last two to four inches will be the tail. Venomous snakes (with the exception of the coral) have a thick heavy body that sharply tapers to a skinny tail. Non-venomous snakes have bodies that taper seamlessly to the tail. Don’t let size fool you, even very young venomous snakes and full grown pygmy rattlesnakes can inflict a dangerous bite.
One important exception to the heavy bodied snake being venomous rule is the eastern hognose. The hognose is a very beneficial snake that imitates venomous snakes just like the scarlet and king snake imitates the coral snake. The head is more triangular than other non-venomous snakes, but the head gently slopes back to the neck whereas the a venomous snake’s angles sharply to the neck. The hognose is easily identified by its turned up nose.
If it is determined that the snake is venomous, it needs to be relocated or encouraged to move on. If the snake is in the open, use a broom to gently herd the snake out of and away from the house or garage. Snakes do not like the feel of bristles. A rattlesnake can only strike a distance equal to half its length, so a broom will keep you far enough away for safety. If the snake needs to be relocated, a trashcan or large plastic container with a well fitting lid are good choices.
Snakes feed primarily on rodents. Discourage them by making your home and yard rodent-free. Alteration of the habitat will be the most successful way to reduce rodents. Leaf litter, lumber, trash and rock piles should be removed to reduce hiding places. In addition, all possible sources of food for the rodents should be removed. Encourage predators by erecting a hawk pole.
Who’s digging in the yard?
If someone is digging in the lawn, it is looking for grubs and worms. Beneficial nematodes are a good non-toxic way to kill the grubs; see your nursery for advice. To curb digging (works for dogs too) lay welded wire fencing (also known as hardware cloth) flat on the problem area and secure with long U-shaped stakes. The grass will quickly grow through to hide it and it is safe to mow over.
Misconceptions about bats abound and account for their poor reputation. Bats don’t “buzz” humans and get caught in our hair, their eyesight is as good as other mammals; additionally they use echolocation to detect objects as fine as a human hair in complete darkness, which makes catching bats for research purposes difficult.
Bats will not drive away birds located in nearby houses. Because birds and bats typically hunt different insects at different times of day they make great neighbors. Bats need our help to counter habitat destruction; they are exceptionally vulnerable because they are the slowest reproducing mammals on earth for their size. Bats are very attentive mothers, giving birth to only a single pup each year.
Provide bat houses to encourage bats to take up residence. They will make a huge dent in the mosquito and moth populations. What? You like the moths – well the small ones preferred by bats wreck serious damage in the caterpillar stage (can you say bag worms?).
Unfortunately, you can’t slap up a house and expect to get bats. They are very particular about just about every aspect of their homes. Bat Conservation International has devoted themselves to finding out what makes one house desirable or not. They can be found on the web at: www.Batcon.org
Tracking bats with Doppler radar
The U. S. Weather Service got quite a shock when it turned on its new Doppler radar located in New Braunfels (a few miles from Bracken Cave), not only did the radar track meteorological phenomenon, but it showed an ever expanding cloud as the bats emerged from Bracken Cave. The radar can document the dispersal of the bats as well as their altitudes and directions. In conjunction with other research tools, researchers have discovered that the Mexican Free Tail Bats sometimes fly at 10,000 feet to feed or catch tailwinds that carry them over long distances at speeds of more than 60 miles per hour. The densest aggregations were recorded at altitudes of 600 to 3,200 feet.
It is estimated that the 20 million bats in Bracken Cave consume 200 tons of insects per night! The most common bats in our area are the Mexican Free Tail, the Big Brown and the Eastern Pipestrelle. All of these bats are larger than the little brown bat who can consume 1,200 mosquitoes per HOUR. Think what a couple of small bat colonies could do to our mosquito population!
Click here For an in depth look at managing conflicts between human and coyote.
We haven’t had a serious coyote problem until a few years ago, so why are we having problems now? In a word, habitat destruction. (I guess that’s really two words, but who’s counting) We are subject to increases in wildlife due to habitat destruction as land is bulldozed clean for new neighborhoods. Our creeks and bayous support the wildlife’s existence and act as their super-highways.
All of our predators are shy and elusive, preferring to keep a distance from humans. However, when faced with a domestic animal of the right size which has no prey instinct as opposed to wary and skittish rabbits and rats which are much more difficult to catch – even a shy coyote or bobcat will occasionally take the easy meal. I can say in confidence that they will take the “occasional” easy meal because otherwise there would be no free roaming domestic animals under 20 pounds.
So what can be done? The good news and the bad news is not much. The population of predators and prey will level itself out if we don’t interfere. Fortunately, there are some concrete steps that you can take to make sure that your pet doesn’t fall prey to coyotes.
First and foremost, move your pets indoors. If your animal is less than 20 pounds in weight or is sick or weak don’t let it out of the house alone at night, ditto for very early morning. Instead, take a cup of coffee out on the porch to enjoy while Fido gets some exercise. Your presence and a couple of floodlights are enough to keep your pet from looking like dinner.
DO NOT leave food out overnight for your animals to eat. Even finicky eaters will learn to eat during the brief window of opportunity if you put the food out for only a couple of hours a day.
Cats who have been allowed to roam are more difficult to move indoors. With some patience and a pair of earplugs (for you, not the cat) most cats will adjust to life inside.
If you and your cat can’t seem to make this transition, there are a few things you can still do to mitigate the risk. Keep the cat indoors from dusk until an hour or so past dawn. This can be accomplished by feeding the cat once a day (really smelly special stuff at first) INDOORS an hour prior to dusk and keeping it indoors until morning. It will yell and scream at first or skip some meals because it doesn’t want to come in, but an empty tummy is your best friend. You still run some risk, but at least the animal is protected during the night.
If you and your cat cannot come to any indoor accommodation, then you need to feed your cat once a day in the morning. The food should be put out when you wake up and removed when you go to work or an hour later, whichever is sooner. You must accept the risk that the animal might disappear or be eaten by a predator.
A wooden fence (chain link can be easily climbed) that is at least 5 feet high will also discourage coyotes. Yes, the coyote can dig under, but remember that it is basically lazy and will go elsewhere for an easier meal. If you do not want to fence your whole backyard, fence a small area off of the back door for Fido’s use.