Creature Feature: Squirrels

Widespread and widely liked, squirrels are not only adorable and intelligent, but also one of the most visible wildlife in our community. Home more than ever these days, many of us have had delighted in their backyard entertainment and mischievous antics.  Though familiar, there’s still plenty to uncover about these wildly acrobatic and entertaining creatures.

Fast Facts 

  1. Squirrels will occasionally engage in “deceptive caching” – digging and re-filling a hole without actually depositing a nut. This throws off would-be thieves. 
  2. Eyes positioned on the side of the skull allow squirrels to see behind them. 
  3. With a large area/mass ratio and a tail for a parachute, squirrels can survive a fall from ANY HEIGHT.  
Squirrels are one of the few animals that can run head first down a tree. Their back ankles can rotate 180 degrees, allowing them to grip the tree trunk on the way down.

Why do we need them?  

It’s no secret that squirrels bury seeds and nuts. But they only recover a portion of what they bury. Sometimes their cache is raided before they return, but in many cases they’ve simply forgotten where they buried their food. When this happens, the squirrel has unwittingly helped to re-forest our community.   

Even though they dine mostly on nuts, seeds and fruit, squirrels are omnivores. Occasionally eating insects, small birds, mammals and carrion, squirrels play a role in a balanced food chain.  

They’re also an important source of food for many predators, including snakes, coyotes, hawks, and owls.  

Removal 

If you’re a gardener or have a bird feeder, chances are you’ve had a run-in with squirrels. These clever creatures love to take advantage of an easy meal. But before you attempt to trap or remove them consider the following:  

  • Be sure it’s a squirrel. Squirrels are diurnal creatures, so you should be able to catch them in the act in broad daylight. If your plants are dug up during the night, chances are another critter was to blame.  
  • Remove a squirrel and another will likely take its place. Even if you remove several squirrels at once, the lag in activity will be short-lived.   
  • Humanely trapping and relocating results in low survival rates. A relocated squirrel lands in unfamiliar territory where it must quickly find food and shelter and fight off predators. It has none of the security it depends on. 

The easier option is to live in harmony with squirrels.   

  • Reduce or eliminate food sources. Bird feeders are a common attractant. And while it may take a few tries, keeping squirrels at bay can be done. Try some of these suggestions from Birds and Blooms
  • Make your garden uninviting. Consider adding plants that don’t appeal to squirrels such as mint, marigolds or nasturtiums. 
  • If you’re still having trouble in the garden, consider enclosing with chicken wire or mesh cloth. 
  • Keep squirrels out of the attic by trimming tree branches at least 10’ away from the roof. Seal any holes or gaps to prevent access. Just be certain no squirrels are inside before you do.
Their very small and very sharp claws allow them to hang upside down, making many bird feeders an easy meal.

Disease 

The best way to appreciate wild animals, squirrels included, is to watch them from a distance and not feed them. Feeding squirrels discourages natural foraging and can result in a serious bite. Like other rodents, squirrels may be a carrier of rabies, lyme disease, hantavirus and several other diseases according to the Center for Disease Control. Keep your distance and you won’t have any problems.  

So, when you step outside and see a squirrel raiding your bird seed, remember their more likeable attributes. These acrobatic, charismatic creatures are an everyday reminder of the wildlife that share our forested home.  Maybe we should be thanking them for helping plant the trees we enjoy everyday. 

Pictured above is the gray squirrel. The most common of the three species found in The Woodlands.

Questions or comments? Contact enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov

Creature Feature: Skunks

“Do you smell that?” One whiff and your alarm bells start ringing – skunk!  Like all skunks, our two local species, Striped and Spotted, are equipped with an unforgettable sulphuric spray. While we may not appreciate their smell, skunks have plenty of likeable qualities. Keep reading to learn more about our odiferous neighbors. 

Fast Facts: 

  1. Skunks are omnivorous.  Their diet varies with the season – insects and bugs during the spring and summer, small animals in the fall and winter – and the occasional berry or leaf. Like most urban wildlife, they’re opportunistic and will take a quick snack from the garbage can, pet food bowl or garden. 
  1. Their spray isn’t a weapon, it’s a warning. Spraying is about defense, not offense. The organic sulphur compound ejected from two small glands (known as a musk) tells potential predators that they taste bad, don’t waste your time.  
  1. It takes 10 to 12 days to replenish their stinky supply. Their spray supply isn’t endless. It can take nearly two weeks to produce enough for a few more shots. 

Why do we need them? 

Valuable garden allies, these natural pest control heroes feast on crickets, grasshoppers, beetles, grubs, small rodents and moles. Should the insects feasting in your garden seemingly disappear overnight, you might have a skunk to thank.

Defensive Behavior 

Skunks are passive, shy animals, who would rather flee than fight. Their bold white stripes or spots are all the warning most animals need. When their markings don’t get the message across, skunks give additional warnings with agitated foot stamping, hissing and growling. If the aggressor continues, the skunk will form his body into a “U” shape with both head and tail aimed at the attacker. 

Skunks spray their musk only as a last resort and are impressively accurate up to about 10 feet. Spray that enters the eyes causes temporary blindness. Combined with the lingering malodor, it’s likely their attacker learned a lesson it won’t soon forget. 

A nosy family dog is a common spray victim. If yours takes a hit, mix up the following remedy. Wear rubber gloves and do NOT get the solution in the dog’s eyes. Also, do NOT store this mixture or make it ahead of time, as it is not stable. If your dog has been sprayed in the eyes, call your veterinarian for appropriate care. 

Remedy 

Mix together: 
1 quart of 3% hydrogen peroxide (available at a pharmacy) 
¼ cup baking soda 
1 teaspoon dishwashing liquid soap 
 
Rub the mixture all over and scrub deep to neutralize the odor. Leave it on until the smell abates – but no longer, peroxide can bleach fur. Rinse thoroughly. 
 

Avoid A Conflict 

It’s more likely that you’ll smell a skunk rather than see one. A persistent, faint musky smell under a structure or woodpile may suggest a skunk has taken up residence. During breeding season, males can spray frequently when fighting over females.

Deter skunks from your yard: 

  • Keep a tight lid on garbage cans or pull them inside. 
  • Remove pet food before nightfall. 
  • Remove boards or debris where skunks may hide. 
  • Close off openings under decks, patios, or sheds.  Use ¼-inch mesh hardware cloth, burying the wire at least 6 inches to prevent skunks from digging underneath. 
  • If you think a skunk has already taken up residence, it’s essential to be sure the animal (and any young) have left the den before blocking the entrance.  

If you come upon a skunk, simply move away slowly and quietly. 

Threat of Rabies 

Skunks are one of four animals (including the fox, raccoon, and bat) considered primary carriers of the rabies virus and is classified as a rabies vector species.  

Though mostly active at night, skunks sometimes look for food during the day, particularly in the spring when they have young to feed. Don’t be concerned if you see a skunk in the daytime unless they also show abnormal behaviors, such as: 

  • Limb paralysis 
  • Circling 
  • Unprovoked aggression 
  • Disorientation or staggering 
  • Uncharacteristic tameness 

If you witness any of these signs, don’t approach the skunk.  For assistance, call the Montgomery County Animal Control Authority at 936-442-7738, or Harris County Veterinary Public Health at 281-999-3191. 

Removal 

Under state law, a person may trap a fur-bearing animal at any time if it is causing damage or creating a nuisance. If you live trap a skunk, you must notify the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department before relocating the animal.  A permit must be obtained and permission granted from the property owner where you plan to release the live animal.  Always contact a professional wildlife specialist if unable to safely remove wildlife on your own. 

Skunks have a single litter of 4-6 kits around May-June. The young stay in the den until around 8 weeks old. 

Yes, skunks are a bit smelly. But, these impressive animals are important members of our ecosystem. Most of the time, skunks simply pass through your yard at night and you’ll never encounter them.  Make the compassionate choice to live in harmony with nature. After all, they’ve learned to live with us. 


Questions or comments? Email enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov 

Creature Feature: Coyotes

Trickster, creator, messenger and symbol of death, the coyote appears often in the tales and traditions of Native Americans. Most stories focus on the coyotes’ cleverness in achieving victory. These mythological portrayals have seeped into our perception of who the coyote is, for better or worse.  

Modern coyotes do display an impressive level of cleverness, continually adapting to the changing American landscape. These members of the dog family once lived primarily in open prairies and deserts. Now they are found across North America, including densely populated, urban areas. You might spot one running across a golf course or city park or in a culvert alongside a busy road.

Urban areas offer a steady supply of food for these opportunistic eaters. With plenty of rodents, rabbits, deer and vegetation cover around our community, it’s no wonder that coyotes have chosen to call The Woodlands home.

Be sure to look for the Creature Feature article in the upcoming July Community Magazine for more coyote facts and highlights.

Largely nocturnal hunters, seeing a coyote is rare, however it is possible that you may cross paths one day. Unexpected encounters with wildlife can cause confusion and invoke fear for both you and the animal! Familiarize yourself with the following responses and be prepared to act calmly and responsibly if you find yourself in one of these situations.  

If you hear or see a coyote, follow these best practices:

Utilize TheWoodlands311 app service request system (the app will pinpoint lyour location and allow for comments)

Hazing Techniques 

Pathways, Parks, Forested Areas, Open Spaces: Slowly and calmly walk away. If approached, DON’T RUN. Wave arms, make noise and walk toward the coyote until it retreats. Thrown rocks and sticks can be effective. The goal is not to hit the animal, but to scare it away. Be “Big, Bad and Loud.”  

At Home:  Do not approach animal. Wave arms and make loud noise (air horns, car horns, banging pots and pans, whistles). Throw rocks and sticks toward the animal. Water hoses can be effective. 

Pet Safety 

Though naturally timid, a coyote may see your pet as a threat, especially during breeding season, when pups are nearby, or when defending a source of food. Coyotes will try to intimidate your dog by baring their teeth and hunching their backs. This threat display is an attempt to scare your dog away without making any physical contact. If your dog does not move on, the possibility of a physical conflict is more likely. 

Ensure your pet’s safety and follow these guidelines: 

  • Never let your dog chase or play with a coyote.  
  • In an area where coyotes have been seen, keep your dog under full control at all times.  
  • To protect your small dog in coyote areas: 
    • Avoid using a flexi-leash  
    • Avoid walking near bushy areas  
    • Stand or walk with other people or larger dogs  
    • Avoid walking small dogs at dawn 
  • If a coyote gets too close for your comfort make eye contact with  
    it. Leash larger dogs and pick up small dogs. Haze the coyote (see above).  
  • If the coyote doesn’t leave, it’s likely there’s a den, pups, or food source nearby. Don’t run. Leave the area calmly. Change your routine to avoid this area for a while.  
  • If a coyote performs a threat display, or two or more coyotes charge your larger dog(s), leash up, leave the area calmly, and report it to 3-1-1. 

At home, reduce the chances of a coyote encounter by doing this simple yard audit:  

Want more information? 

Coyotes are clever. They have managed to adapt to an evolving landscape, raise their young in densely populated areas and find food and shelter in unexpected places. Understanding how to live with our wild neighbors creates a safe home for all of us. There’s much to appreciate and learn from coyotes on how to adapt to an ever-changing world. 

Questions or comments? Email enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov

Creature Feature: Venomous Snakes

“Snakes. Why does there have to be snakes?” Perhaps you’re one of the many who empathizes with Indiana Jones. In fact, ophidiophobia (fear of snakes) tops the list of phobias, right along with public speaking. Fear of wild animals is valid, but what Indie probably didn’t consider is that snakes don’t seek out humans to attack. A bite is most always a defensive reaction. Indiana Jones movies introduce venomous snakes from around the world. In The Woodlands, we have only three. The Southern Copperhead, Western Cottonmouth and Texas Coral Snake.

Southern Copperhead: Tan to light orange body, 2 to 3 feet long when mature. Darker markings that resemble a Hershey kiss. Copperheads are very well camouflaged on forest floors.
Western Cottonmouth: Stout, thick-body that ranges from dark, grayish-brown to black, 2 to 3 feet long when mature. Also known as water moccasins.
Texas Coralsnake: Brightly colored pattern of red, yellow and black rings. Small head and slender body. Usually 30 inches or shorter

Let’s get acquainted

Like most snakes, these three species are shy and generally keep out of sight. They travel alone and prefer brush, rocks and woodpiles. Multiple snakes will share a den for winter hibernation, emerging in late February through early March. They are active during the day in spring and fall and at night during the summer to avoid the intense heat.

All snakes are strictly carnivorous. The type of prey varies by the species and may include mice, rats, frogs, birds, squirrels, rabbits, lizards, insects, eggs, snails, scorpions and smaller snakes. Aquatic species, like the cottonmouth, also eat fish, crustaceans and amphibians.

Snakes play an integral role in maintaining a balanced ecosystem by helping keep prey populations in check. For example, controlling the rodent population results in the reduction of common diseases like hantavirus, lymphocytic chorio-meningitis and salmonellosis.

Living with nature

14 of the 17 species of snakes commonly found in The Woodlands are nonvenomous. While a bite from any wild animal is possible and can cause injury, most wildlife is harmless when left alone. If you unexpectedly encounter a cold blooded neighbor, follow these best safety practices.

Preventing snake bites

Most snakes live on or near the ground. Most bites happen around the ankle and about 99% of all bites occur below the knee.

Safety tips:

  • Wear protective clothing; fangs are sharp but break easily and almost never penetrate leather shoes or boots. Long-sleeved shirts and pants will help further reduce your risk.
  • Watch where you step, sit down and put your hands (never blindly into a hole).
  • Avoid stepping over a log without first seeing what is on the other side. If you must move a log, use a long stick or garden tool first, to ensure snakes are not near.
  • Use a flashlight when moving about at night.

Around the home

  • Keep the grass short, shrubs trimmed, and flowerbeds free from debris.
  • Limit wood and brush piles and keep them away from the residence.
  • Keep storage sheds and garages as neat as possible.
  • Treat overturned boats, plant pots, tarps and similar objects as potential shelter for snake

Snake encounters and recommended responses

Removal – who to contact

When removing wildlife from your private property, it is best to call a professional.

  • Montgomery County: Woodlands Snake Removal, Nathan Wells: 346-218-0279
  • Harris County: Texas Snakes & More, Clint Pustejovsky: 713-934-7668

Keep in mind that living in a densely forested area means that you may encounter snakes at local parks, ponds and along trails. Follow the recommended responses above during an encounter and avoid handling any wildlife. Snakes are a valuable asset to the health of our forests and we don’t want to remove them from their natural home.

Want more information?

Now that you’ve read a little more about snakes, hopefully you appreciate the importance of having them around. We’re not suggesting you’re cured of your fears but maybe you’ve found a new respect for snakes and you will let them be when you see them. And on the rare occasion that you encounter a pit of asps on your world-wide adventures, go ahead and channel your inner professor of archaeology.

Questions or comments? Email enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov

Creature Feature: Raccoons

They’ve been recorded sneaking food from the backyard, teasing household pets through the patio door and ransacking campsites. Their fluffy, cuddly appearance, combined with a curious and endearing behavior has drawn interest for centuries. Christopher Columbus called them perros, the Spanish word for dog. Raccoon was one of the first words recorded by Jamestown colonists: the Powhatan word means “animal that scratches with its hands.” These days you might know them affectionately as night bandits, trash pandas or forbidden cats.

Mischievous and opportunistic, raccoons are not looked upon favorably by some. Maybe you can learn something new about these commonly misunderstood creatures, which were recently highlighted in the April issue of The Woodlands Community Magazine.  

Here are some facts about our highly adaptable and intelligent neighbors to get you started:   

  • Raccoons weigh up to 30 pounds, are 30 to 40 inches long, and are covered in grayish brown fur that has a dense underfur to insulate against the cold. They are notably adorned with a black mask, and ringed tail. 
  • Opportunistic omnivores, raccoons enjoy fruits, plants, nuts, berries, insects, rodents, frogs, eggs and crayfish, but won’t pass up the chance to sift through your garbage. 
  • They do have a few predators: coyotes, bobcats, cougars and larger species of owls. Disease and cars are their biggest cause of death, though. 
  • They play an important role in a healthy woodlands ecosystem by helping control the pest population. Raccoons help control snake, insect and pest populations and reduce the spread of disease by eating carrion. 

Raccoons are pretty great neighbors, until they’re not. Raccoons can lose their natural fear of humans as they find more food and shelter opportunities, especially if those are in your backyard! If you are seeing a lot of raccoon activity around your home, you may find yourself facing one of these scenarios. 

Nightly Raids 

Once a raccoon has found a source for a tasty treat, they will continue to return, night after night. If your garden, trash can or pet food is being raided, it’s time to remove the source. Adding protective fencing around your garden and using bungee cords to secure your trash lid are a good starting place. But keep in mind that those little dexterous hands can undo many simple latches, so if possible, store your garbage cans inside a shed or garage. There are many ways to scare away a raccoon for a night or two. Loud noises or a barking dog may do the trick a few times, but if the food source is still there, the raccoon will return, and your neighbors might not appreciate the noise. Bright lights, or motion sensor lights will also have a similar, short-term effect. It’s best to remove the source of food and let the raccoon move on to another nightly buffet.

Raccoon Removal 

Raccoons prefer brushy or wooded areas near streams, lakes or swamps but have adapted to live near developed areas, as long as food, water and shelter can be found. Warning: If a raccoon has taken up residence in your attic or shed, it is difficult to remove without professional help. If you are certain that the raccoon has left the space and there are no babies around, you may be able to board up the area before it returns. If you are unable to safely address the issue yourself, check with the Montgomery or Harris County offices for local wildlife removal companies and other resources.  Just be sure to restrict access so another raccoon doesn’t take its place! 

There are no repellants, toxicants or fumigants registered for raccoon control

Found an abandoned or hurt raccoon 

As with any wild animals, be cautious when approaching. Even babies can bite and mom is likely nearby. If you have found baby raccoons, also called kits or cubs, and are certain that mom is not returning, and not just out getting some food, there are some local wildlife rehabilitation resources that can help. For residents of Montgomery County, Friends of Texas Wildlife is a great resource. If you are in Harris County, reach out to Wildlife Center of Texas for assistance. Caring for baby raccoons until you can reach a rehabilitator has its challenges. Review these simple steps for doing your best to ensure your safety and their survival. Both organizations can field questions regarding a raccoon that has been injured as well. 

Raccoons are wild animals. They are not meant to be rescued and turned into a household pet. Wild animals can be dangerously aggressive and many, including raccoons, are known to carry disease. According to the CDC, raccoons were responsible for 28.6% of all reported cases of rabies in the U.S. in 2017. In addition to rabies, raccoons may also carry ticks, fleas, lice, roundworm, leptospirosis bacteria, and salmonella. If you, or a pet, encounters a raccoon, please be cautious and follow up with medical professionals if you receive a bite or scratch.  

Whether you think they are the epitome of cuteness, the best cleanup crew and pest control, or are just one of nature’s nocturnal neighbors, there’s no denying that raccoons are a part of our community. Next time you see one scampering across the road at night, you might wonder, did I put the trash can away?  

Questions or comments? Email enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov 


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