Because of its climate, Florida is home to many different species of wildlife. At some point, most Floridians will come across some of the most popular neighborhood "critters," including iguanas, raccoons and opossums. The following information will help you discover more about these fascinating animals and learn some of the best ways to keep your home and property "critter free."
Keep in mind that in Florida, all wildlife is protected by anti-cruelty laws. Inhumane treatment or the killing of any wildlife creature is punishable by law. Yet, the presence of wildlife in resident areas can be a nuisance to residents. There are appropriate ways to manage “nuisance wildlife.”
With the exception of sick or injured wildlife, these issues are typically handled by residents themselves, or by professional, private wildlife trappers, which are listed in the Yellow Pages under Animal Removal Services. To report nuisance wildlife:
For removal of alligators, call the state Nuisance Alligator Program at 866-392-4286.
Healthy Wildlife (such as lizards, snakes and wild birds)
For further information on co-existing with wildlife or resolving conflicts, please call the South Florida Wildlife Care Center at 954-524-4302.
All Birds (including ducks, geese, egrets and other feathered creatures, or any found nests)
For information or assistance please call the South Florida Wildlife Care Center at 954-524-4302.
Sick or Injured Wildlife
Injured wildlife can also be taken to the Wildlife Care Center, 3200 S.W. 4th Ave. in Fort Lauderdale. Call 954-524-4302.
For more detailed information on nuisance wildlife, read on:
Preventing Nuisance Wildlife
As residents of South Florida’s incredible natural habitat, we must learn to live with the wildlife around us, including iguanas, raccoons and opossums. Because humans are gradually encroaching on many natural animal habitats, displaced wildlife often has no where else to go, so they venture into residential habitats.
You can share a little fruit with an opossum or raccoon that is eating fruit off the tree in your yard. There may not be much other food available because of the development going on around you. You may cut open a few pieces of the fruit and lay it on the ground for the animal, as this sometimes prevents it from biting holes into the hanging fruit.
There are other steps you can take to wildlife-proof your home.
- Seal all routes of animal entry. Screen open windows and cover chimney tops or other openings where smaller animals can get through with mesh or screening.
- If you live in a trailer, seal the open space from the bottom of the trailer to the ground with wire cloth, cement block, or wood lattice.
- Use artificial owls, hawks, or snakes to discourage small birds and squirrels from going into your fruit trees.
- Sprinkle cayenne pepper around gardens and ornamental plants to keep wildlife from digging them up.
- Secure garbage cans by running a rope or chain over the lid and tying down each handle. Prevent toppled trash cans by placing the cans in some type of anchored rack, or tie them to the fence.
- Take all cat and/or dog food inside before dark every night so as not to encourage an opossum or raccoon to stay in the area for a free handout.
- Leave a bucket containing a hose that is turned on very slowly in the yard to discourage a raccoon from using your pool as a toilet. This "running stream" effect is usually much more attractive to the animal and may save you from having to clean the pool too often.
- Submerge a wire mesh horizontally around the circumference of your pond, stretching the mesh and leaving the inside free, to deter a raccoon from raiding the fish. The fish will have the center of the pond open and the raccoon can't reach over the wire. Because the wire is unstable, raccoons tend not to stand on it.
- Wrap metal guards, 18 inches or wider, around trees five or six feet above the ground, to deprive raccoons of access to roof tops and other buildings.
- Lock all pet doors at night to keep raccoons out of the kitchen or garage.
- Spray fox scent to deter raccoons away from your property.
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Common Misconceptions About Nuisance Wildlife
- It's okay to hand feed or tame a wild animal.
FALSE. You should never attempt to hand feed or tame a wild animal. Wildlife that have no fear of people never survive for very long.
- Removing “nuisance wildlife” will solve a problem for good.
FALSE. Trapping and removing “nuisance wildlife,” such as an opossum or raccoon, will only temporarily solve a "nuisance wildlife" problem. Another opossum or raccoon will move in to fill the niche. Relocating wildlife into the woods or the "wild" is also not in the best interest of the animal. Thrusting the animal into another animal's territory means it has to fight and compete with the resident animal for a limited food supply and nesting area. In almost all cases, it is the newcomer that loses, many dying from infection from bite wounds and others getting killed by cars in an attempt to return to their original territory.
- It is unusual for wildlife to come out during the day and when they do, they most likely have rabies.
FALSE. At certain times of the year, there may be an increased appearance of opossums and raccoons, including during daylight hours. This behavior generally occurs because the animals are having their young, and they become much more active during the day and the night as they search for food. After the babies have left the nests or dens, the level of animal activity returns to normal.
- A drooling opossum has rabies.
NOT GENERALLY TRUE. Most opossums drool. This is not a sign of rabies. In general, an opossum presents a far lower health risk to humans than do dogs and cats as it has a natural high level of immunity to most diseases. Statistics indicate that there has not been a case of rabies in opossums in South Florida since rabies statistics have been kept.
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Encouraging an Animal to Leave Your Attic
*Adapted with permission from the Wildlife Care Center’s publication “Animal In Your Attic? 3 Steps To Encourage It To Leave.”
During the spring and summer months, many opossums and raccoons have their young in attics or roof areas of people's homes. Be patient and allow the mother and babies to leave on their own when the young are old enough. After the animals leave, you can board up and seal areas where wildlife may have entered.
The animal living in your attic chose the space because it is a dark, warm and a quiet place to spend the day or raise a family. Follow these three steps to encourage the animal to find a new home. You will need:
- clear ammonia
- empty cans or containers
- rags to act as wicks
- a bright light
- a portable radio
Step 1: Make the attic smell unpleasant.
Soak a rag in ammonia and place it in a can or other container. Pour extra ammonia in the can then place the can in the attic. The wick effect will disperse the ammonia in the confined attic space. Use enough ammonia cans so that the aroma is unpleasant but not so strong that the animal will be overcome and die from lack of oxygen.
Step 2: Make the attic bright.
Hang a portable light in the attic using a high wattage bulb. Leave the light on 24 hours a day until the animal leaves. The bright light will make the animal feel insecure because potential predators can see it and cause it harm. It also makes it hard for the animal to sleep, so the animal will search for a darker and safer location.
Step 3: Invade the attic with loud human voices.
Place a radio in the attic tuned to a talk radio station. Raise the volume so that the sounds reach the entire attic. Humans are deadly predators and strike fear in animals. Wild animals do not want to be around people and by providing constant human voices, you make the attic a scary place. Don’t play music: only the sounds of talking will scare the animals.
You have now eliminated every reason the wild animal chose your attic. It is now a smelly, bright, and noisy place. The animal must find a new home. If it is a mother with young babies, it isn’t easy to create a new nest in one night. Give the mother time to move all her babies because she can only take one at a time. Depending on the species, it may take three or four days to move all the young animals. Once all the animals have left, secure all entry points to prevent a new animal from moving in.
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Bees are among some of the hardest working insects, producing flavorful honey and natural beeswax. However, stinging bees can not only be very irritating, but also very dangerous to those who are allergic to them.
Honeybees can produce a painful sting when defending their hives. Unlike the African Honeybee, they do not attack in swarms.
Bees will die after they sting, leaving their stinger and poison sac. The poison will continue to release venom until the sac is emptied or the stinger is removed.
A beehive functions as a miniature society; they contain three specialized groups or castes. The castes consist of workers, drones and queens, and each has their own specialized function. There is only one queen per hive, which is the largest bee, and her main function is laying eggs. A hive may contain as many as 40,000 worker bees, which are all sterile females, and tend to be the smallest. The males, or drones, can number up to 2,000, and make up the remainder of the hive.
In South Florida it is not uncommon for hundreds of bees to set up household between the walls of your home or other parts of your house. A large hive can also be established in trees or other parts of your property causing the bees to potentially sting pets, children or others who come close.
Trying to tackle a bee problem is better left to the professionals since numerous bee stings without proper protection can cause serious illness, even if you are not allergic to the sting. In addition, if the queen is left behind, the bees will only return.
If you need assistance with a bee infestation, please contact a professional bee removal service that specializes in properly removing the hive and ensuring that all of the bees are gone.
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Iguanas – Florida’s Green Lizard
Iguanas can cause damage by eating valuable landscape plants, shrubs, and trees, as well as orchids and many other flowers. They can also dig burrows next to seawalls and foundations, increasing the chance of erosion and eventual collapse. The droppings of iguanas along decks and docks and sometimes in swimming pools is also a frequent complaint.
Raccoons are found in all types of habitats. Although they generally prefer wetland regions, over the past decade raccoons have become more comfortable living near human communities and do not fear people as most wildlife do. In fact, they can be pretty bold.
They are especially active at night, looking for food. The raccoon is a seasonal eater that prefers fish, crayfish, and small mammals in the spring. The remainder of the year, it feeds on acorns, seeds, fruits, vegetables, insects, and other invertebrates.
A raccoon usually has one litter a year, and its mating season is from March to May. Occasionally, though, the season can be prolonged through July. The gestation period is typically 63 days, and litters average from two to seven babies.
A raccoon has a husky build and generally weighs between 15 and 40 pounds. Its coat is full and shaggy, and its coloring is gray with shadings of tan on its flanks. The heavily furred tail is usually a tan and gray with black rings. The long slender toes on the front feet give the raccoon great dexterity in grasping food, and the larger surfaces on the back feet give it superb agility in climbing for food.
The raccoon has earned its infamous nickname, “Bandit,” which was first given because of its black-masked face. But, it's important to remember that humans have virtually forced the raccoon into the title. Urbanization and land development have taken the majority of the raccoon's natural romping grounds away but, rather than diminish, these hardy critters have adapted and flourished. So, we have problems with them claiming back "our" space for their own. Consequently, raccoons topple our garbage cans, nest in our attics, roam our lawns for food, and prey upon the fish in our ponds.
A raccoon may bite if it perceives a threat to its well being, such as being grabbed or petted. The best thing for the raccoon is to be left in its own territory where it can find food and knows where there is a safe shelter. In many cases, the raccoon will move to a more preferred habitat on its own. The raccoon's life span in the wild is about two years.
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No matter where you live in South Florida, there are opossum. The adult opossum is the size of a cat and is light gray to black in color. It has a pink nose, feet, and rat-like tail with black ears and a pointed snout. But despite its rat-like appearance, an opossum is not a rodent.
This non-aggressive animal has survived since the time of the dinosaurs and can adjust to living just about anywhere. As long as it can find the necessities of life, (water, food, and a den) it will be happy. The most common den sites are under wood piles, decks, and mobile homes. Although the opossum has the most teeth of any land mammal, it does not chew wood.
An opossum may bite if it perceives a threat to its well being, such as being grabbed or petted. The best thing for the opossum is to be left in its own territory where it can find food and knows where there is a safe shelter. In many cases, the opossum will move to a more preferred habitat on its own. The opossum's life span in the wild is about two years.
Opossums are rarely seen together, and except during breeding season or when a female is with her babies, the opossum is a solitary animal. It fights only if attacked, surprised, or cornered, but prefers to run away or “play possum,” which is said to be an involuntary reaction to danger. An opossum will hiss or growl and show its sharp teeth when frightened.
The opossum is very beneficial as a rodent and carrion eater. Besides eating all types of dead animals, it eats a variety of food including over-ripe fruit, grapes, and berries; insects such as cockroaches, crickets, beetles, slugs, snails, etc.; mice, rats, and roof rats; snakes; lizards; and eggs. It also cleans up uneaten food which would normally attract rats. An opossum will eat side by side with a cat out of a dish of cat food that is left outside, and it will consider the cat food a gourmet meal.
The opossum mating season is from January to July. Females have litters up to twice a year. Litter size can be as many as 22, but only 12 can survive. The average litter is 5-9. Newborn opossums are ½ inch long and weigh .0050 of an ounce. At one week, they weigh .05 of an ounce. At 36 days, whiskers start to appear, and body hair becomes visible at 45 days. By the time they are 60-70 days old, they can weigh an ounce and may start to leave the pouch. At 75-85 days, they are weaned and rarely go into the pouch. They also start looking for their own food. At 90-120 days, they are hunting on their own but still may live in the same den with their mother until they find their own. Very few young opossums survive into adulthood.
It is not necessary to relocate an opossum that you see in your yard. The opossum is not dangerous to you or your pets, if left alone. While any warm blooded mammal can carry rabies, it is highly unlikely that an opossum will. An opossum does, however, carry fleas, as do all wild animals and some domestic animals.
An opossum may get into garbage cans, eat your pet's food, or eat cultivated fruits and vegetables. It may enter a home through ripped screens or vents and duct systems. To alleviate these problems, follow guidelines for Preventing Nuisance Wildlife.
If you come across an opossum in your attic or garage, try to find out how it got in. Then follow the guidelines for Encouraging an Animal to Leave Your Attic.
If you find an injured opossum, you can move it into a box by putting a towel over its head and lifting it under the neck while supporting the rear legs. Always check the pouch of a female opossum for babies as they can survive for about 24 hours after the mother has died. Baby opossums are on their own when they are 6" to 8" long (not including the tail).
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