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(For the week of June 21, 2010)
Backyard Pests (Part 1)
by James L. Cummins

The backyard pests we that we will discuss over the next 2 weeks are quite different with some having scales, others wings and feathers, and even others with fur. While some are actually quite beneficial, they all seem to be nuisances because they are simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The obvious reasons that wild animals invade our spaces are due to them searching for food and/or shelter. Armadillos, bees and rats look for any hole to make their home. If that hole is under the eaves of your house or in a wall, then you have involuntarily welcomed them into your home.

Plugging up leaks in your home will help to keep animals out, but what if they've already taken up residence? First, it is important that you figure out what kind of pest is enjoying the comforts of your home. If you should come upon the animal, remember that healthy animals will not generally attack unless they are given no alternative so you should never corner one or threaten its young. Always leave a means of escape.

Let's look at a few critters that could become one of your pests, where you might find them and how to get rid of them.

Alligators are generally found in areas such as swimming pools or small private ponds. Do NOT attempt to catch or feed alligators! If you spot an alligator in your area, you should contact the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks by calling (601) 432-2400.

Armadillos will usually crawl into holes in your yard or burrow under slabs. They can wreak havoc in flower beds and lawns. To keep armadillos from entering your yard, add fencing a few feet high, buried 1 foot deep and angled out. Traps will sometimes work and should be baited with meal worms or sardines. Existing holes can be filled after tossing in a handful of mothballs, which will cause them to relocate.

Bats will seek shelter under eaves and in attics. They will often be the cause of foul odors and strange noises. If you have bats in your attic, when they leave for their evening, close up the holes if you do not want them there. The best means of getting rid of these animals is to secure a sheet on the outside so that any remaining bats can leave but they cannot re-enter. Bats are helpful with insect control so do not kill them.

Bees can and will build their hives in walls. The best way to deal with bees is to call a local beekeeper or entomologist.

Rats can be found in homes, yards or standing wood piles often evidenced by the 2- to 4-inch holes they chew. You can rid yourself of these pests by setting traps outside the holes or by natural means - releasing a king or rat snake into the area.

James L. Cummins is executive director of Wildlife Mississippi, a non-profit, conservation organization founded to conserve, restore and enhance fish, wildlife and plant resources throughout Mississippi.