Nuisance Wildlife 101Dr. Jim Fredericks
Tuesday, November 5, 2013
A guide to identifying common wild animal invaders
While they might seem cute and cuddly
scampering about in the great outdoors, wildlife presents a
unique set of dangers if they try to make their homes inside ours.
It can be very unnerving to discover wildlife in your home because
one raccoon is a lot bigger than one ant, and animals can be more
aggressive if they are frightened or feel threatened while trapped
in an unfamiliar environment.
While many common
pest-proofing techniques will keep out wildlife pests as well
as insect pests, you should take several additional precautions to
be sure your home is not attractive to wildlife. Opossums and raccoons can be
attracted to garbage, so keeping trash in sealed bags and disposing
of it regularly will reduce the chance that pests raid your garage
or garbage cans. And cutting back tree limbs from the roofline is a
good step to discourage squirrels from getting access to the
Even when following steps to prevent wildlife, it is important
to look for signs of a possible intrusion. These pests tend to be
more of an issue in fall and winter as the animals search for a
place to stay warm over the winter. Gnaw marks on wires,
insulation, or walls, feces in the attic or garage and scurrying
sounds in the walls can all be indicators of a wildlife pest
infestation. Here is a guide to some of the most common critters
that bother homeowners:
- Appearance: Bats have hairy
bodies and can vary in color from tan to black. They have four
appendages. The front two are used as wings and all four are used
for crawling. Different species are different sizes but the average
adult bat is 2 3/16” to 7 ½” (5.5cm - 18.8 cm) in length with a
wingspan anywhere from 6-15” (15.2cm - 38 cm).
- Region: Bats occur throughout the U.S. except in colder regions
where tree growth is limited.
- Habitat: Where bats prefer to roost depends on the species, but
all enjoy dark, secluded and protected areas that can include
attics, churches, tree cavities or caves.
- Threats: Having bats in a structure can pose several serious
health threats to humans. Bats are known carriers of rabies in the
U.S. and can infect other animals and humans. It is important to
seek medical attention if you’ve had any unprotected contact with a
bat. Bat droppings can also cause disease such as histoplasmosis,
and bat mites and bat bugs may become common in a home with an
- Unique fact: In many states, bats are protected mammals. Check
with animal control or your local wildlife service for any
regulations before bat-proofing your home.
- Appearance: Opossums are white or grey with a
pointed face, hairless ears, and a rat-like tail. They can grow up
to 40 inches in length, about the size of a house cat.
- Region: They are commonly found in the eastern, central and
west coast regions of the U.S.
- Habitat: Opossums prefer to make their homes near streams or
swamps, but they can live in many areas including arid climates,
woods and open fields. They are known to take shelter in the
burrows of other animals and are commonly found in tree cavities
and brush piles.
- Threats: If an opossum makes its nest in your in attic or
garage, it can get very messy. They can also destroy poultry, game
birds and their nests. In rare cases they may bite if
- Unique fact: When startled, opossums will bare their teeth and
- Appearance: Raccoons are
black and gray and known for the black “mask” over their eyes. They
are very furry and have a ringed pattern on their tail. Fully
grown, a raccoon can be about 2-3 feet in length.
- Region: They are found in all regions of the U.S.
- Habitat: Raccoons are common in forested areas with access to a
water source, but they can also be found in fields near livestock
watering areas. They build dens in a variety of places including
hollow trees, ground burrows, brush piles, barns, haystacks or rock
- Threats: Raccoons are one of the major hosts of rabies in the
U.S. They are especially a threat in areas where their populations
are growing like the eastern part of the country. They are also
known to raid garages and garbage cans left by the street in search
of food. Damage to roofs and chimneys can be caused by raccoons
searching for a place to build their den.
- Unique fact: Raccoons are very intelligent and have a very
highly developed sense of touch.
- Appearance: Squirrel populations in
different regions vary in their coloring and can be whitish, gray,
yellow, red, brown, or even black. They have a long furry body with
a bushy tail and can be 6-15” tall. A squirrel’s tail can be just
as long as its body.
- Region: Squirrels are found in all regions of the Unites
- Habitat: In the summer, squirrels will likely nest in tree
cavities or build nests in branches. They may overwinter in tree
holes but are also known for invading homes and structures looking
for a place to keep warm.
- Threats: All tree squirrels are considered pests because they
frequently enter attics in the winter, but they rarely pose a
health threat to homeowners. Outdoors, these squirrels can damage
electrical wires and telephone lines.
- Unique fact: Some squirrel populations have adapted to living
in urban environments and are often the only wild animals, besides
birds, that some people ever see.
Wondering how to properly handle a nuisance wildlife problem?
These animals can carry disease and may cause physical harm, so
removal should be handled only by a pest professional
with the proper protective gear and training.