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 Jeff Turrentine
Tamara Lindeman certainly doesn't seem particularly anxious, or grief stricken, or angry. In fact, in a recent Zoom conversation, the Toronto-based singer-songwriter (who records and performs under the name The Weather Station) comes across as friendly, thoughtful, and a little shy.
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="e4d236b2ab0f186d2a521373ea043a62"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/OJ9SYLVaIUI?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="0f2439cf169f10914f841f8e67acbc6d"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/nHY0luoxn9k?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="2efc4ee0e3ccb8da9660b01f86a1a8b6"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/gDcxg56nZAo?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
- 10 Musicians Taking on the Climate Crisis - EcoWatch ›
- The Power of Inclusive, Intergenerational Climate Activism - EcoWatch ›
- Global Outrage After India Arrests Climate Activist Over Farmer ... ›
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
Walking to work or to the store is better for the climate than driving, so climate advocates encourage people to leave their cars at home when possible.
An independent market monitor says ERCOT, the Texas grid operator, left wholesale electricity prices at the legal maximum for two days longer than necessary, and overcharged power companies $16 billion in the process during the winter storm that caused massive grid and gas system failures and left more than 4 million Texans without electricity.
- Extreme Winter Storm Wreaks Havoc on Grid, Energy Markets ... ›
- How the Texas Electricity System Produced Low-Cost Power but Left ... ›
- Polar Vortex Power Outages: 6 Things to Know About Supply ... ›
- Winter Storm in Texas Sparks Renewable Energy Debate - EcoWatch ›
- Texas Blackout: Death Toll Mounts, Food and Water Are Impacted ... ›
By Thomas Gordon-Martin
According to a global food waste index released on Thursday, some 931 million tons of food waste were generated across the world in 2019. The report, published by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), and UK charity WRAP, equates that to 17% of all food available to consumers.
- 12 Creative Ways to Cut Down on Food Waste in Your Kitchen ... ›
- Can the U.S. Slash Food Waste in Half in the Next Ten Years ... ›
- 23 Organizations Eliminating Food Waste During COVID-19 ... ›
- Food Waste Set to Increase by 33 Percent Within 10 Years - EcoWatch ›
At first glance, you wouldn't think avocados and almonds could harm bees; but a closer look at how these popular crops are produced reveals their potentially detrimental effect on pollinators.
Migratory beekeeping involves trucking millions of bees across the U.S. to pollinate different crops, including avocados and almonds. Timothy Paule II / Pexels / CC0<p>According to <a href="https://www.fromthegrapevine.com/israeli-kitchen/beekeeping-how-to-keep-bees" target="_blank">From the Grapevine</a>, American avocados also fully depend on bees' pollination to produce fruit, so farmers have turned to migratory beekeeping as well to fill the void left by wild populations.</p><p>U.S. farmers have become reliant upon the practice, but migratory beekeeping has been called exploitative and harmful to bees. <a href="https://www.cnn.com/2019/05/10/health/avocado-almond-vegan-partner/index.html" target="_blank">CNN</a> reported that commercial beekeeping may injure or kill bees and that transporting them to pollinate crops appears to negatively affect their health and lifespan. Because the honeybees are forced to gather pollen and nectar from a single, monoculture crop — the one they've been brought in to pollinate — they are deprived of their normal diet, which is more diverse and nourishing as it's comprised of a variety of pollens and nectars, Scientific American reported.</p><p>Scientific American added how getting shuttled from crop to crop and field to field across the country boomerangs the bees between feast and famine, especially once the blooms they were brought in to fertilize end.</p><p>Plus, the artificial mass influx of bees guarantees spreading viruses, mites and fungi between the insects as they collide in midair and crawl over each other in their hives, Scientific American reported. According to CNN, some researchers argue that this explains why so many bees die each winter, and even why entire hives suddenly die off in a phenomenon called colony collapse disorder.</p>
Avocado and almond crops depend on bees for proper pollination. FRANK MERIÑO / Pexels / CC0<p>Salazar and other Columbian beekeepers described "scooping up piles of dead bees" year after year since the avocado and citrus booms began, according to Phys.org. Many have opted to salvage what partial colonies survive and move away from agricultural areas.</p><p>The future of pollinators and the crops they help create is uncertain. According to the United Nations, nearly half of insect pollinators, particularly bees and butterflies, risk global extinction, Phys.org reported. Their decline already has cascading consequences for the economy and beyond. Roughly 1.4 billion jobs and three-quarters of all crops around the world depend on bees and other pollinators for free fertilization services worth billions of dollars, Phys.org noted. Losing wild and native bees could <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/wild-bees-crop-shortage-2646849232.html" target="_self">trigger food security issues</a>.</p><p>Salazar, the beekeeper, warned Phys.org, "The bee is a bioindicator. If bees are dying, what other insects beneficial to the environment... are dying?"</p>