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(For the week of June 28, 2010)
Backyard Pests (Part 2)
by James L. Cummins

This is the second of a two-part piece on various backyard pests that may have taken up residence in your yard. As discussed last week, the obvious reasons that wild animals invade our spaces are due to them searching for food and/or shelter. Geckos and other lizards, opossums and snakes look for any hole to make their home.

Geckos can grow up to 4 inches long and are usually seen at night running along floors, windows and window screens trying to catch insects. Their voice can be heard as a faint, mouse-like squeak. Skinks can be up to 6 inches long and they are often found in sheds and woodpiles and eat insects. Chameleons also eat insects. Skinks and chameleons can bite so leave them alone.

Rabbits can be a nuisance when they eat plants from the garden and flower beds. While rabbits can be hunted during specific times of year, you should make sure of these dates before trying to kill them. To keep them from entering your garden areas, fence the area by burying a 3-foot-high fence at least 6 inches deep and angle the tops outward.

Raccoons and opossums love to dig through your garbage cans in search of food. They also annoy your pets as their presence accounts for a lot of nighttime barking. To rid yourself of these pests, you should first obtain a permit to use a live trap. Bait the traps with chicken, cat food or sardines. Once caught, place the captured animals in a cool, quiet place until you can release them into a more natural environment.

Besides the obvious reason you would want to rid yourself of skunks, they also dig in your yard and flower beds. Check on the necessity of a permit before using live traps. Once captured, you should approach the trapped animal slowly and use a long pole to cover the trap with a canvas. Proceed slowly and carefully to your release site!

Other than visual confirmation, other obvious indications that there is a snake around are the small holes they leave in your yard and their discarded skins. These signs indicate that the snake has found a good food source around your home so check the area for signs of frogs, rats and other such rodents. By ridding your yard of these, you will “run” the snake off.

Usually owls tend to steer clear of humans. They will sometimes resort to nesting in attics which can cause unpleasant odors and strange noises at night. It is illegal to kill owls so you should contact the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks at (601) 432-2400 if you have problems.

While there are other pests that you can find in your yard or garden, I hope you now feel more confident about taking control of ridding yourself of them if they are causing problems. For more help, call the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks or the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspections Service's Wildlife Services.

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.