How to Handle Raccoons, Snakes and Other Critters in Your Yard (Hint: Not With a Thermos)
By Leslie Burger
I heard a local story of a man who, in his excitement to kill a rattlesnake, used the only thing he had available ─ his thermos bottle. The next scene in this drama has the man in the hospital receiving anti-venom to treat a snake bite.
Encounters with wildlife are becoming more common in towns and neighborhoods as urbanization increases, and people often do not know what to do in these situations. Many species of urban wildlife, such as butterflies, bees, beetles, lizards, bats and most birds, are benign or even beneficial, helping to control mosquitoes, pollinate flowers and trees, recycle nutrients, and provide many other hidden ecological services.
But there can be also some associated health concerns, as some species bring the risk of parasites or disease. For example, some snakes like rattlesnakes or copperheads can be venomous. Habitat loss to fragmentation, urbanization and expanding agricultural production means suburban and urban spaces will increasingly become options for wildlife searching for new homes. It is not just snakes, but also coyotes, foxes, raccoons, deer and even bears.
As a wildlife biologist and extension educator, my job is to help people more fully understand wildlife for the betterment of both people and animals. People generally enjoy wildlife. Renowned ecologist E. O. Wilson coined the term "Biophilia" (meaning "life fondness") to describe this seemingly inherent affinity humans have for natural life. Rather than being too friendly or overly fearful, people should be aware and respectful of wildlife that may be in their neighborhood.
What About Those Snakes?
Many people ─ like the thermos-wielding man in the opening story ─ may not realize that snakes are beneficial and that attacking them with a dangerous tool, much less a thermos, is increasing the likelihood that it will be scared and bite in self-defense. About 7,000 to 8,000 people are bitten each year by a venomous snake, but death from one is very rare.
While they might not have the charisma of a panda or polar bear, snakes serve an important role in the environment. They eat insect pests as well as rodents that can serve as vectors for parasites and infectious diseases like the plague that may be transmitted to humans. True, a venomous snake hanging around the backyard would be a situation for concern. But since only 20 of the estimated 127 species in North America are venomous, the probability of encountering a venomous snake is pretty low. Nevertheless, if a venomous snake does end up near a home, wisdom calls for keeping children and pets away until professional help arrives to remove the animal.
Most people aren't worried about a cute raccoon eating out of the cat's outdoor food dish. However, that same animal could be a carrier for rabies, parasites, influenza, salmonella or other pathogens that are issues for people and household pets. Close proximity to people and pets is discouraged for all wildlife species, even the cute ones.
What About Other Critters?
If wildlife such as coyotes, deer or foxes do appear in the yard, the best option for a peaceful encounter is to give them space. When met by people, most wild animals, if not habituated to humans, will either escape the imminent danger humans pose or hunker down to hide until the coast is clear for them to leave. It is when people move in closer ─ whether intentionally to help or harm or accidentally through unawareness ─ that a wild animal will feel the need to defend itself physically. For the untrained person, it is always wisest to go inside and wait it out.
Homeowners who don't want any furry or scaly visitors should be mindful not to provide food or shelter. Secure outdoor trashcan lids, scoop up spilled seed at bird feeders, and remove outdoor pet food bowls that may attract these creatures. Stacks of firewood and piles of yard debris provide shelter to smaller critters, so if this is not your goal, consider alternatives.
In those instances where an unwanted guest does not move on, it is best for all involved to contact local wildlife experts for assistance rather than trying to handle the situation without help from those with proper training. Not only will this avert any unwanted injuries to people or animals, it will also prevent any unintentional violations of the state and federal laws that protect most wildlife in the U.S.
A coyote in Portland, Oregon.
SoulRider.222 / CC BY-ND 2.0
What if You Want Some Backyard Wildlife?
Some folks want to create space for nature by offering the food, shelter and water that animals are seeking. This option helps restore some of the functions and services that natural ecosystems provide. Bird feeders, pollinator plantings, (unchlorinated) water features, and native trees and shrubs can be artfully incorporated into landscaping to provide beauty and supply backyard habitats. This is supplemental support and is different from caring for wild animals as if they were domesticated. Deliberately feeding animals like squirrels, deer or raccoons can create a hazardous situation for people and wildlife, leading to increased risk of negative encounters, disease and harm. This practice is not supported or encouraged by professional wildlife biologists.
Cities: Where the Wild Things Are https://t.co/AdEHTesQkQ— The World Bee Project CIC (@worldbeeproject) May 28, 2018
Leslie Burger is an assistant extension professor of wildlife, fisheries and aquaculture at Mississippi State University.
Disclosure statement: Leslie Burger does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond her academic appointment.
Reposted with permission from our media associate The Conversation.
By Robin Scher
Beyond the questions surrounding the availability, effectiveness and safety of a vaccine, the COVID-19 pandemic has led us to question where our food is coming from and whether we will have enough.
- Can Urban Farms Prevent Hunger in 54 Million People in the U.S. ... ›
- New Report Finds Malnutrition World's Top Killer Amid Pandemic ... ›
- Oxfam Warns 12,000 Could Die Per Day From Hunger Due to ... ›
- Three Ways to Support a Healthy Food System During the COVID ... ›
- Trump USDA Resumes Effort to Cut Food Stamp Benefits - EcoWatch ›
- Pandemic Threatens Food Security for Many College Students ... ›
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
Tearing through the crowded streets of Philadelphia, an electric car and a gas-powered car sought to win a heated race. One that mimicked how cars are actually used. The cars had to stop at stoplights, wait for pedestrians to cross the street, and swerve in and out of the hundreds of horse-drawn buggies. That's right, horse-drawn buggies. Because this race took place in 1908. It wanted to settle once and for all which car was the superior urban vehicle. Although the gas-powered car was more powerful, the electric car was more versatile. As the cars passed over the finish line, the defeat was stunning. The 1908 Studebaker electric car won by 10 minutes. If in 1908, the electric car was clearly the better form of transportation, why don't we drive them now? Today, I'm going to answer that question by diving into the history of electric cars and what I discovered may surprise you.
As bitcoin's fortunes and prominence rise, so do concerns about its environmental impact.
- 15 Top Conservation Issues of 2021 Include Big Threats, Potential ... ›
- How Blockchain Could Boost Clean Energy - EcoWatch ›
By David Drake and Jeffrey York
The Research Brief is a short take about interesting academic work.
The Big Idea
People often point to plunging natural gas prices as the reason U.S. coal-fired power plants have been shutting down at a faster pace in recent years. However, new research shows two other forces had a much larger effect: federal regulation and a well-funded activist campaign that launched in 2011 with the goal of ending coal power.
- Major Milestone: More than 100,000 MW Worth of Coal-Fired Power ... ›
- Coal Will Not Bring Appalachia Back to Life, But Tech and ... ›
- Renewables Beat Coal in the U.S. for the First Time This April ... ›