Not so welcome wildlife “Varmints”can fit into our local environment

Foxes. raccoons, opossum, and bobcat may take some getting used to and are certainly not cuddly, yet perform beneficial services like rodent control. These animals are nocturnal and are rarely seen.

My fearless, ferocious 12 pound Jack Russel terrier will attack anything close to her size. Recently the resident gray fox has stood up to her resulting in the two snarling at, and circling each other. I called West Seitz with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and asked if foxes can hurt or kill small dogs. Fortunately, foxes are as harmful to a dog as a cat would be. Big dogs kill foxes, although a small dog may get hurt. So keep an eye on the pooch especially in the early morning and evening. Don’t feed any of these four wild creatures and keep garbage, dog food and other attractants secure.

Our local gray fox species, which can be found in town too, is the only canine in the U.S. that can climb trees. This makes it fairly good at squirrel control. It has red on the sides and its gray back has a black line down the center. It needs dense brush to hide in and hollow tree stumps to nest in. The gray fox controls mice, rats, some rabbits and squirrels, lizards and frogs. It will also eat fish, fruit and insects. I am grateful to our local fox for keeping rats and squirrels from eating the saw palmetto and other seeds that I have planted in my native plant nursery. In fact, you can buy bottled fox urine to spray in areas that you don’t want squirrels to go. Just don’t spill any on yourself or you’ll be sleeping in a tent that night.

The less abundant red fox which is native to North America, but not South Florida, was introduced from North Florida. It has black with a white tip on the end of the tail. It will also eat sea turtle eggs and is not welcome here.

Chickens are eaten by all four animals yet be aware that a stray cat will also kill poultry and may even have rabies. Foxes very rarely get rabies and opossum almost never. Raccoons are not to be trusted and never try to handle or get too close to a sick, sluggish, or, of course, aggressive wild animal.

Years ago, the bobcat in our 300 plus acre neighborhood unfortunately wore out its welcome by eating too many chickens, geese and, including mine, ducks. I understand how infuriating it can be to have your chickens eaten by wild animals, yet with some extra fencing and lots of patience it is possible to strike a truce with even the most pesky varmints around.

Fortunately we don’t have coyotes yet, although a few have been spotted in the counties just west of us. They kill livestock, cats and dogs and belong out in the western United States where they came from. It has been shown that coyotes are actually good for bird populations because they drive off the feral cats that eat ninety percent of fledgling birds. I still don’t want them around.

So even though there are a lot of problems with having varmints around, they keep rodent populations in check and are part of our natural world.