Criminal Critters: Identifying the Suspects

We all know the frustration of walking out the door to see that the hostas were bitten down to the ground overnight, or that some mammalian miscreant dug up your favorite planter. Furry critters may be nice to look at, and they are important for the ecosystem as a whole, but there's no denying the damage they can do in the landscape. Today we'll talk about five very common animal pests, and one somewhat unusual one that we saw more often than usual last year on our properties.

First, you need to determine whether or not there is a problem worth dealing with, because keeping out wildlife is not easy. Is the animal causing a significant nuisance? Is there a health or safety risk? Are the animals significantly damaging your plants? Some scenarios that are worth dealing with would be moles in a lawn that sees a lot of foot traffic (potential for twisted ankles and falls), deer that routinely munch on plants, skunks on your property, and squirrels and chipmunks that keep on digging up plants. Ultimately, it's your call on whether or not the wildlife problem merits action. Just know that in most cases it isn't possible or practical to eliminate the critters entirely, so choose your battles accordingly. Let's move on to profiles of some of the most common mammals you'll see in your landscape crime scenes.

Animal Damage Profiles

Deer

Type of Damage: rubbing, scratching, or gnawing on tree bark; eating plants and produce and leaving a ragged cut

Time of Day: evening or overnight

Time of Year: all seasons (damage to tree bark is mostly seen in winter or early spring)

Other Clues: characteristic hoof prints

Rabbit

Type of Damage: eating flowers and vegetables, sharply angled cut close to ground

Time of Day: most active at dawn and dusk, but can be active any time of day

Time of Year: spring, summer, and fall

Other Clues: round pellet-like droppings

Chipmunk burrow By No machine-readable author provided. ElC assumed (based on copyright claims). - No machine-readable source provided. Own work assumed (based on copyright claims)., CC BY-SA 3.0

Chipmunk burrow
By No machine-readable author provided. ElC assumed (based on copyright claims). - No machine-readable source provided. Own work assumed (based on copyright claims)., CC BY-SA 3.0

Chipmunk

Type of Damage: small holes 1"-1.5" in diameter, small plants dug up or nibbled

Time of Day: day

Time of Year: spring, summer, and fall

Other Clues: edges of holes are clean with no dirt piled outside

Squirrel damage to bark, healed over. Photo by Maria Gulley

Squirrel damage to bark, healed over.
Photo by Maria Gulley

Squirrel

Type of Damage: 1.5"-3" holes with dirt piled at entrance; dig up small plants; disturb mulch in spring and fall when burying and digging up food caches; eat fruits and vegetables; can sometimes see damage to thin-barked trees, especially in winter

Time of Day: day

Time of Year: all year

Other Clues: tips of twigs nibbled off of trees (this can also be caused by some insects)

Mole

Type of Damage: extensive underground tunnels; it's the tunnels near the surface and "mole mounds" (small piles of dug-up dirt) that are problems in the landscape

Time of Day: any time of day

Time of Year: spring, summer, and fall

Other Clues: ground feels squishy in areas if you're walking on tunnel

Vole

Type of Damage: troughs eaten through grass under snow; groundcover stems cut low to ground without disturbance to foliage

Time of Day: night

Time of Year: damage mostly seen in winter, but they are active all year

Other Clues: population spikes every 3-4 years, so it may be a problem one year and then not again for a few more years

 

Have you found your culprit yet? If not, you can check out this website for a more extensive look at landscape animal pests. The web design is a bit dated, but the information is very helpful. Next week we'll move on to what to do if you have an animal pest causing enough problems to merit control efforts. Be sure to tune in!


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