Florida is home to three species of squirrels, the eastern gray squirrel (Sciurus carlinensis), the fox squirrel (Sciurus niger), and the southern flying squirrel (Glaucomys volans). The most common in urban areas is the eastern gray squirrel (pictured here). Squirrels occur in woodland and urban areas, especially near oaks and hickories, and are active during the day, often feeding on the ground.
During late summer squirrels may be seen rolling on the ground, biting themselves, and jumping up and down. This is usually due to skin irritations from bot fly larvae, which are parasites that appear as bumps on the skin, often in places where the squirrel cannot scratch. The parasite is located only in the skin and does not affect edibility of the meat in harvested squirrels.
Squirrels can cause problems by chewing on plants, tree bark and ornamentals as well as plastic items, like electrical wiring insulation or even wood siding on houses and out-buildings. It is often impossible or impractical to eliminate the source of their chewing.
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The nine-banded armadillo (Dasypus novemcinctus), named for the nine breaks in the creature’s leathery armor that allow it to flex its stiff hide, is an odd-looking mammal about the size of a cat. Armadillos are not native to Florida, but are now common over most of the state. Armadillos like forested or semi-open habitats with loose textured soil that allows them to dig easily. They eat many insects, or other invertebrates, and some plants. They most often feed at night, and have very poor eyesight.
Armadillos dig burrows for homes or to escape predators, and a single armadillo can have several different burrows with multiple entrances. A mature armadillo is 15 to 17 inches long (not counting the tail) with a weight of eight to 17 pounds. Pregnant females always give birth to identical quadruplets. She produces one egg that splits into four identical offspring that are either all female or all male. This trait differs from most other mammals.
Armadillos are fascinating in other respects. When they need to cross narrow water bodies, they often walk on the bottom under water. If it is a wide body of water, they will inflate their stomach to twice its normal size, allowing for enough buoyancy to swim across. When startled, armadillos often leap high into the air, and then run quickly to a nearby burrow.
Armadillos prolific rooting and burrowing can severely damage lawns and flower-beds. To reduce armadillo damage to your lawn keep watering and fertilization to a minimum. Moist soil and lush vegetation bring earth worms and insect larvae (armadillo candy!) to the surface of the soil.
Florida's only marsupial (a mammal of the order Marsupialia having a pouch containing the mammary glands and serving as a receptacle for the young) is the Virginia opossum (Didelphis virginiana). Opossums are about the size of a house cat, have long naked tails and small ears. Opossums occur throughout the state in virtually all habitats. If threatened they may go limp and appear dead, hence "playing possum". Opossums are common in residential and suburban areas, and are most active at night.
Opossums are attracted to virtually any type of available food, including garbage, pet food, or cultivated fruits and vegetables.
The raccoon (Procyon lotor) is about the size of a small dog, and is most notable for its black mask and bushy ringed tail. Raccoons are common throughout the state and occur everywhere there are trees, the cavities of which they often use. Raccoons are omnivorous feeding on fruits, plant material, eggs, crustaceans, small animals, and garbage. Raccoons usually become active in the late afternoon and throughout the night.
Wild raccoons that lose their natural fear of humans seek to move closer to their food source--your house. Once raccoons take up residence in your attic or outbuildings they can become very destructive and difficult to remove.
Prevention is the key to dealing with raccoon problems. Do not feed raccoons! Do what you can to eliminate their artificial food sources. Bring in pet food at night and secure trash cans by either fastening the lid tightly or enclosing them in lockable bins. Make sure bird feeders are not accessible to raccoons (i.e., squirrel-proofed).
Raccoons should not be handled by inexperienced individuals because of the risk of rabies infection.
RATS Provided by UC
People do not often see rats, but signs of their presence are easy to detect. The most troublesome rats are the roof rat and the Norway rat.
Norway Rats. Norway rats (Rattus norvegicus), sometimes called brown or sewer rats, are stocky burrowing rodents that are larger than roof rats. Their burrows are found along building foundations, beneath rubbish or woodpiles, and in moist areas in and around gardens and fields. Nests may be lined with shredded paper, cloth, or other fibrous material. When Norway rats invade buildings, they usually remain in the basement or ground floor. The Norway rat occurs throughout the 48 contiguous United States. Generally it is founds at lower elevations but may occur wherever people live.
Roof Rats. Roof rats (Rattus rattus), sometimes called black rats, are slightly smaller than Norway rats. Unlike Norway rats, their tails are longer than their heads and bodies combined. Roof rats are very agile climbers and usually live and nest above ground in shrubs, trees, and dense vegetation such as ivy. In buildings, they are most often found in enclosed or elevated spaces in attics, walls, false ceilings, and cabinets. The roof rat has a more limited geographical range than the Norway rat, preferring ocean-influenced, warmer climates. In areas where the roof rat occurs, the Norway rat may also be present. While rats are much larger than the common house mouse or meadow vole, a young rat is occasionally confused with a mouse. In general, very young rats have large feet and large heads in proportion to their bodies, whereas those of adult mice are much smaller in proportion to their bodysize. While both rats and mice gnaw on wood, rats leave much larger tooth marks than those of a mouse.
BIOLOGY AND LIFE CYCLE OF THE RAT
Rats, like house mice, are mostly active at night. They have poor eyesight, but they make up for this with their keen senses of hearing, smell, taste, and touch. Rats constantly explore and learn about their environment, memorizing the locations of pathways, obstacles, food and water, shelter, and other elements in their domain. They quickly detect and tend to avoid new objects placed into a familiar environment. Thus, objects such as traps and baits often are avoided for several days or more following their initial placement. While both species exhibit this avoidance of new objects, it is usually more pronounced in roof rats than in Norway rats. Both Norway and roof rats may gain entry to structures by gnawing, climbing, jumping, or swimming through sewers and entering through the toilet or broken drains. While Norway rats are more powerful swimmers, roof rats are more agile and are better climbers. Norway and roof rats do not get along. The Norway rat is larger and the more dominant species; it will kill a roof rat in a fight. When the two species occupy the same building, Norway rats will dominate the basement and ground floors, with roof rats occupying the attic or second and third floors. Contrary to some conceptions, the two species cannot interbreed. Both species may share some of the same food resources but do not feed side-by-side. Rats may grab food and carry it off to feed elsewhere.
Rats of either species, especially young rats, can squeeze beneath a door with only a 1/2-inch gap. If the door is made of wood, the rat may gnaw to enlarge the gap, but this may not be necessary. Norway Rats. Norway rats eat a wide variety of foods but mostly prefer cereal grains, meats, fish, nuts, and some fruits. When searching for food and water, Norway rats usually travel an area of about 100 to 150 feet in diameter; seldom do they travel any further than 300 feet from their burrows or nests. The average female Norway rat has four to six litters per year and may successfully wean 20 or more offspring annually.
Roof Rats. Like Norway rats, roof rats eat a wide variety of foods, but their food preferences are primarily fruits, nuts, berries, slugs, and snails. Roof rats are especially fond of avocados and citrus and often eat fruit that is still on the tree. When feeding on a mature orange, they make a small hole through which they completely remove the contents of the fruit, leaving only the hollowed out rind hanging on the tree. The rind of a lemon is often eaten, leaving the flesh of the sour fruit still hanging. Their favorite habitats are attics, trees, and overgrown shrubbery or vines. Residential or industrial areas with mature landscaping provide good habitat, as does riparian vegetation of riverbanks and streams. Roof rats prefer to nest in locations off the ground and rarely dig burrows for living quarters if off-the-ground sites exist.
Roof rats routinely travel up to 300 feet for food. They may live in the landscaping of one residence and feed at another. They can often be seen at night running along overhead utility lines or fence tops. They have an excellent sense of balance and use their long tails for balance while traveling along overhead utility lines. They move faster than Norway rats and are very agile climbers, which enables them to quickly escape predators. They may live in trees or in attics and climb down to a food source. The average number of litters a female roof rat has per year depends on many factors, but generally is three to five with from five to eight young in each litter.
DAMAGE CAUSED BY RATS
Rats consume and contaminate foodstuffs and animal feed. They also damage containers and packaging materials in which foods and feed are stored. Both species of rats cause problems by gnawing on electrical wires and wooden structures (doors, ledges, in corners, and in wall material) and tearing up insulation in walls and ceilings for nesting. Norway rats may undermine building foundations and slabs with their burrowing activities. They may also gnaw on all types of materials, including soft metals such as copper and lead as well as plastic and wood. If roof rats are living in the attic of a residence, they can cause considerable damage with their gnawing and nest-building activities. They also damage garden crops and ornamental plantings.
Among the diseases rats may transmit to humans or livestock are murine typhus, leptospirosis, trichinosis, salmonellosis (food poisoning), and ratbite fever. Plague is a disease that can be carried by both roof and Norway rats
The Most Common Intruders