Urban Living: Keeping the Critters Out

Living in the city one doesnt expect to see much wildlife. However, there are some wild things that like living there just as much as we do. That is primarily because humans are a relatively messy people. In the city, there is always plenty of trash and garbage lying around to feed a robust population of rodents and other small mammals. We also like to have a lot of tasty plants with berries and other ornamental attributes on them, which can provide food and shelter for small animals. Ways you can help to minimize the rat, rodent, skunk, opossum, or raccoon populations around where you live are:

1. Check around where you live and clean up all garbage, paper, food, and berries or fruit on the ground. Then walk around and check to be sure you didnt miss anything.

2. Put your garbage in metal garbage cans with lids that stay tight and that are attached.

3. Put heavy weights on the garbage can lids to prevent raccoons or other animals from being able to pry them open.

4. Wash out your garbage cans at least once every couple of weeks to keep them from smelling.

5. Don’t allow any standing water on your property for mosquitoes to breed in or for undesirable animals to drink.

6. If you have a garage, store your trash cans in there as opposed to outside where animals can get at them.

7. When you throw away meat or other tempting food, put some bleach or strong smelling cleaner in the bag before you heave it in the garbage can.

8. Make sure any birdseed or bird feeders are out of the reach of squirrels, raccoons, rats, or other seed eating animals.

Yellow Jackets – Know Your Enemy

Anyone who has ever picnicked in the park has experienced the dive-bombing and swarming of yellow jackets. Yellow jackets are aggressive predatory wasps that have yellow and black or black and white striped bodies and are about the same size as a bee, but skinnier and less hairy looking.

Like bees, yellow jackets are social insects that live in colonies, but a lot smaller than the ones bees live in. Like bees, yellow jackets carry a nasty stinger, but because it is not barbed, they can sting repeatedly while a bee can only sting once. Although annoying at your picnic as they buzz your ham sandwich and potato salad, they are in fact beneficial insects because they prey on other insects.

Yellow jackets eat a number of things. They can capture and chew up insects (or your lunch meat), but they also have a long proboscis for sucking nectar, fruit, and other juices. Yellow jacket nests are generally found in trees or shrubs where they are in a protected environment. They can also be found in human structures such as attics, hollow walls, inside flooring, in sheds, or under porches or house eaves. Some even live in abandoned mouse burrows or in cavities in the soil. Their nests are made from chewed up wood fiber.

In the spring, adults feed on things rich in sugar, but their larva feed on protein, which the adults find, chew, and condition to feed their young. The young produce a sugar the adults relish. In late summer as larva mature, worker yellow jackets change their food preference from meats to sweets as the young stop producing sweet treats for the adults that feed them.

If you find a yellow jacket nest near your house, it is best to get rid of it so you or anyone else or your pets don’t mistakenly aggravate them and get stung. Because these insects are aggressive and can sting repeatedly, it is best to call a professional to clear the nest away.

The Mystery of the Vanishing Honey Bees Solved

Not all bugs are bad. Some, in fact, are essential to our well being on the planet. One of these is the honey bee, which pollinates tens of billions of dollars worth of crops across the US. Without these insects we would have no oranges, almonds, and many of the other fruits, nuts, and vegetables we eat every day, not to mention a lot of flowers that help to beautify our homes and gardens.

Only a few years ago, something ominous started happening. Honey bees would leave their hives to gather pollen and then never return, leaving the other adult bees and queen so starve to death. Bee keepers who would transport their bees around to different orchards to pollinate the trees were finding that a within a relatively short period many of their hives, sometimes up to 70% of them in a single season, were being abandoned. No one knew why.

Some speculated that cell phones or magnetic fields were mucking with the bees’ ability to navigate and that they would get lost trying to make it back to their hives from the flowers. Thanks to molecular biologists and geneticists, we now know that the cause of this devastating crash in the honey bee population is due to a virus.

Scientists found this out by comparing the bee genome (the arrangement of genes in honey bee DNA) of disappearing bee populations with those that were not having the problem. Turns out that the bee populations being compromised were infected with a virus that was first found in bee colonies in Israel in 2002. It is a close, probably mutated, version of the Kashmir bee virus.

The Problem with Raccoons – Doin’ the Dirty

Each pest has its own list of problems it causes. The most common complaint about raccoons is that they have no compunctions about tearing a hole in your roof to make an entrance to their new den. They can also rip up duct work, tear insulation off pipes, pull up insulation, and might even chew on your joists, though they are not as bad as squirrels in this regard.

Although damage to the frame of your house is annoying, for the most part raccoon structural damage is relatively minor. The real problem with raccoons is that they are a big animal; and, if they are living in your house, just like you they are going to be “going to the bathroom” in there. The only problem is they don’t have a bathroom in the attic and don’t know how to use one anyway. As a result, they will be urinating and defecating in your attic as long as they are living in there. This can cause health problems for your and your family and pets.

Because raccoons are basically wild animals their feces can contain parasites, a common one of which is the raccoon roundworm which can be transferred to humans. Raccoons also can bring in fleas and get diseases such as canine distemper which can be transmitted to your dog.

As cute and funny as they may be, if you find you have raccoons on your property, you need to call a professional to make sure you get rid of them before they bring the outdoors inside your home!

Raccoons, Rabies, and You

Because raccoons are wild animals and, like any other wild thing, can put up a vicious fight if they are cornered, some people think they will just get a cage and try and trap the animal themselves, thereby saving themselves some money. You should know, however, that it is probably illegal for you to trap a raccoon and then take it somewhere else and release it. If you can’t trap it and then take it somewhere else, then that means you have to kill it. Very few people know how to humanely euthanize trapped wildlife, so for your safety and to be humane, you really need to have someone involved who is licensed and is able to handle the animal humanely and, if necessary, safely dispose of its remains.

One reason many states do not allow people to trap and release raccoons is because, as we noted in a previous blog, they are the animal most often reported that is infected with rabies. In fact 40% of all reported rabies cases now come from raccoons, with skunks and foxes coming in second and third.

In fact, it is thought that the rise in the number of rabid raccoons on the east coast of the US was because some hunting clubs in Virginia wanted to restock their local raccoon populations and did so with some raccoons that had been caught in Florida. Some of these had rabies, but did not yet exhibit the symptoms. Since that time, increased rates of raccoon rabies has spread across the East and all the way up into Canada.

In fact, before 1960, most reported rabies cases were in domestic animals, but now almost 90% of the cases involved wild animals. Rabies in humans though is pretty rare; and there are only about 2 cases a year in the whole US. Of these more than half were due to contacts with bats, not raccoons.