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Pests Aplenty Can Find Your Front Door in SW Florida
You hear scratching and squeaking behind the walls. You see a trail of crumbs in the garage. You choke on a rotten, foul odor blasting out of the air vent.
All signs point to an infiltration by the most dreaded of house guests. These squatters have paws, claws and plenty of flaws.
Whether it’s raccoons feasting on your garbage, rats chowing down on your bird seed or bats getting cozy in your attic, southwest Florida is littered with critters looking to make your home their own. They make a mess and seem relentless, so what can you do to stop these nuisances in their tracks?
The most common nuisance for southwest Florida homeowners is rodents, said Gil Luz, who works at Absolute Wildlife Control. His animal trapping company is based out of Cape Coral, serves anywhere in Collier or Lee counties and specializes in rat removals.
Luz has worked in the area for six years, and before moving here, he worked as an animal trapper in Massachusetts for 21 years. Massachusetts and southwest Florida are quite different when it comes to critter confrontations, Luz said.
“There are a lot of rodents down here. And snakes. The good thing is skunks are far and few between.”
Luz explained that most times, animals crawl into houses for obvious and survival-based reasons.
“Once they find food, whether it’s shrubs or dog food or a bird feeder, once they find a food source, their natural instinct is to find shelter near that food source,” he said. In addition to food, wild animals might come into your home to raise their own litter, or to seek shelter from summer storms. Once they get comfortable, don’t expect the animals to pack up willingly, Luz warns.
After they move in, the animals pose threats. They can chew on wires and do physical damage to your property. They can also bring in waste, fleas and diseases.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation defines nuisance wildlife as animals that “cause property damage, present a threat to public safety or cause an annoyance within, under or upon a building.” According to its Web site, most animal break-ins can be controlled by taking simple preventative measures (listed in the accompanying box). Simple preventive measures can be good offensive moves, but once animals are in your home, more drastic measures are needed, said Gene Kepes, owner of the Fort Myers-Naples branch of Critter Control, a national animal control company.
“It all might help, but it’s not a sure-fire way to keep (the animals) out,” he said. “The best way is to go all over the house and look for those openings and close them up. Or hire me,” he added with a laugh.
Luz added that most homeowners cannot properly capture animals or seal all openings because they are not willing to climb up on their roofs, and even if they do, they may not know where to look for the openings. When homeowners come across unwelcome guests in their home or yard, Luz suggests calling a certified animal trapper.
“Stay away,” he said. “Most don’t want to hurt anybody, but if cornered any animal will protect itself. So retreat and call a professional.”
Both Absolute Wildlife Control and Critter Control of Fort Myers will capture animals and clean up after them. Then the trappers will search the house for possible entry points and seal off the openings to animal-proof the area and stop future break-ins. Prices for professional help vary, but Absolute Wildlife Control offers free estimates for assessing problems and gives price quotes over the phone.
A veritable zoo
In addition to the run-of-the-mill calls about raccoons, rats, armadillos, possums and the occasional coyotes, Critter Control has also seen a rise in the number of calls about iguanas. Iguanas, unlike their small, sleek gecko cousins, grow to an unappetizing 5 feet long. They are identified by the dewlap, a row of spines running down their back to their tail. Iguanas have adjusted to the south Florida climate and multiplied in the wild.
There are large populations of snakes in Lee and Collier counties, and pythons may be breeding in the Everglades. Most of the snakes here are harmless, if creepy, and black snakes are actually a natural pest control in yards, where they devour small rodents and other pests. Kepes said that Southwest Florida is lucky pythons haven’t moved here yet. His company has received a few phone calls regarding them and there’s a high awareness of them since a 2-year-old was strangled by an escaped pet python this month. But has yet to see any of the giants slithering around here, he says.
According to FWC Rule 68A-9.010, which went into effect in July 2008, homeowners do not need authorization to remove destructive wildlife from their property. With a few exceptions, it is legal to euthanize nuisance wildlife, as long as it is done humanely.
If you prefer to live-and-let-live, you can capture the animals and release them on the property where they were found; it is illegal to release them on another property. Trappers are required by law to either euthanize animals or release them on site.
Special rules regarding removing and euthanizing wildlife apply to alligators, deer, bears, bats, most migratory birds and threatened or endangered species.
For more information about nuisance wildlife and related laws, visit the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation: http://www.myfwc.com
Here are aids to help keep your house critter-free:
* Don’t feed household pets outside.
* Be careful with bird seed. It may attract birds, but it also attracts rats and mice, and rats and mice can attract coyotes. If you still want to feed the birds, install baffles or guards on bird feeders, and don’t let bird seed sit on the ground, where it will attract rodents.
* Clean your outdoor grill thoroughly.
* Leave the raccoons hungry by storing your garbage properly with secure lids and placing the trash containers where they cannot be easily knocked over.
* If you have fruit trees, pick any ripe pieces off the tree and remove rotten ones from the ground.
* Eliminate stacks of firewood, debris, tall grass, brush piles and other objects lying close to the ground that create a damp and dark shelter for snakes and other creatures.
* Trim tree branches to deny animals such as squirrels easy access to your roof.
* Check for areas around the house that are common access points: chimneys, gaps where the soffit connects to the roof, vents or damaged roofs. Make any necessary repairs.
Credits - By Kaitlin Mulhere - NaplesNews.com