Small Mammals

Bat Beaver Chipmunk Fisher Fox
Mouse or Rat Opossum Porcupine Rabbit
Raccoon Skunk Squirrel Woodchuck

About Bats

There is nothing to fear from the presence of these graceful creatures. Bats are intriguing mammals that seldom cause problems for humans and are very beneficial to have around because they consume large numbers of insects each night during flight. Bats are nocturnal and use echolocation to find their way as they fly in the dark and have excellent sight to find prey. They migrate annually, and usually have one baby each year. Humans are bats’ biggest threat, along with habitat degradation and pesticide use. If conflicts with bats do occur, they can be safely, humanely, and effectively resolved.

POSSIBLE CONFLICTS & SOLUTIONS

Conflicts with bats usually involve either a bat accidentally entering living areas or bats roosting in buildings or homes. Bats typically roost in higher places, thus the term “bats in the belfry,” making the attic the most common place to find them. If you should accidentally encounter a bat, remain calm and remove children and pets from the area. Bats are not normally aggressive, and will try to avoid contact with humans and pets.

If you have found a single bat inside a house/structure and…

There has been no human contact:  Give the bat a way out and it will leave.  If it is safe to do so, close all interior doors so that the bat is isolated in one area. Then, open all windows and doors leading to the outdoors in the area where the bat is located. When doing this, stay close to the walls because bats fly in u-shaped patterns, flying lower in the center of the room. Once the bat is out of the room, locate its access point and close it off.

There has been contact: If it is safe to do so, close all interior doors so the bat is isolated in one area but do not open any windows or doors leading to the outdoors. Exit the structure immediately thereafter and call a local animal control officer or the board of health for assistance with catching the bat so that the bat can be tested for rabies. Do not attempt to catch the bat yourself! Follow-up with your physician.

Contact is questionable (i.e. someone was sleeping/children or mentally challenged persons were present): National Centers for Disease Control recommend that if a bat is discovered in a room with a sleeping person, it should be captured by local/state authorities and submitted for rabies testing because a bite can be so insignificant it can be overlooked. Follow contact instructions above.

Bats often enter rooms through an open window or door, but they can also enter through places like chimneys, openings in interior walls that lead to attics or basements, or openings in outer walls of the house. If you find one bat inside your home, check and make sure there is not a bat colony living somewhere else in the house (usually the attic). Bats do not make or enlarge holes, but rather use pre-existing openings to enter buildings – they can enter a hole as small as 1/2 inch wide! Thoroughly inspect the exterior of the building for any openings. A hole that is used by bats is often discolored from body-oil residue. You can also find out where bats are roosting by watching for them at sunset when they emerge to feed.

If you have located a bat colony in your home and if you decide to exclude the animals, first find all the points where they are gaining entry. Seal all these entryways with hardware cloth or sheet metal, except the largest or most often used. Once all but one of the entryways are sealed, attach bird netting or flexible plastic strips with staples or duct tape over the last opening (leave the bottom open) to create a one-way exit. The bats will leave to feed and not be able to regain entry. Leave the one-way exit in place for several nights to be sure that all bats are gone, as not all bats leave the roost every night.

After all bats have left, permanently seal the remaining hole. The months of May through August are not a good time to try to solve bat colony problems because it is likely that young bats will be present and they can’t leave the roost. The most ideal time is winter, after the bats have left to hibernate. Before this, you can try to coerce the bats into leaving by lighting the area continuously and using fans to cool the attic, which can make the temperature inhospitable to them. If you have a suitable area outside to install a bat house, you can encourage the bats to stay in your yard by giving them somewhere safe to live.

PUBLIC HEALTH CONCERNS

Although bats have been commonly associated with the transmission of rabies, the incidence of rabies in bat populations in the Northeast has been estimated to be less than one-half of one percent. Bats with rabies generally are not aggressive and do not bite unless provoked. Nonetheless, if you have unknown contact with a bat it is necessary to have the bat tested for rabies and to notify your physician.

Areas that contain large accumulations of bat or bird droppings may harbor histoplasmosis fungi spores, which can cause infection in humans. To prevent exposure, avoid soil contaminated with bat droppings. If it is necessary to be in such areas, wear gloves, work boots, and a facemask or self-containing breathing apparatus, and contain exposed clothing in a bag until washing.

MSPCA BAT FACT SHEET

Check out the Center for Disease Control (CDC)’s site on bats and rabies.
Learn about bat conservation and issues affecting bats.
Learn more about white-nose syndrome in MA bats.

About Beavers

The beaver (castor canadensis), a keystone species in our environment, is the largest rodent found in North America. An individual can weigh up to 60 pounds, although the average adult generally weighs between 35 and 40 pounds.

Trapped to near extinction for their dense waterproof fur soon after European settlement in the United States, the beaver is making a comeback. Their slow, steady recovery has been a godsend for the environment. Beavers are the world’s greatest builders of small, rich wetlands. The habitats they fashion support a myriad of species including other mammals, wading birds, waterfowl, fish, turtles, mussels, deer, bear, and moose. Beaver habitat also houses sensitive plant species, improves water quality by acting as a settling basin, and controls flooding by slowing water movement.

Beavers live in and around water and constantly modify streams by building dams and impounding flows to create ponds. They are herbivores, feeding on the inner bark layer of woody plants, leaves, shoots and aquatic herbs such as duckweed, water lilies, and pond weed. A beaver’s preferred food trees include aspen, birch, willow, cottonwood, poplar, maple, apple, and even oak.

Beavers are monogamous and produce one litter a year, usually between March and June. Because they are territorial and only tolerate the presence of family members under the age of two, families typically disperse, usually traveling less than six miles in search of new homes.

The key to living with beavers is tolerating them, and realizing that they play an important role in establishing and maintaining the wetlands that provide critical environmental functions.

POSSIBLE CONFLICTS & SOLUTIONS

While problems sometimes arise when beavers come into contact with humans or human property, it’s important to remember that beavers do not create problems in natural or wilderness areas. The two most common human-beaver conflicts are the flooding that results from dam-building and the damage to trees that are used for food or building materials.

Contrary to popular belief, trapping is not an effective means of controlling beaver populations or of solving human-beaver conflicts. In fact, unless it’s extensive, trapping has been shown to stimulate the production of more young than if the animals are not trapped.

Fortunately, there are some effective solutions to dealing with human-beaver conflicts. Where potential flooding is a problem there are a number of devices —called bafflers, deceivers, levelers, or other similar terms—designed to control water levels without removing or destroying the beavers. Tree protection, fencing, and repellents are also potential solutions. Find companies that create and install these devices.

PUBLIC HEALTH CONCERNS

While beaver have been implicated in the spread of Giardia, it is important to note that to date there is no documentation of a human contracting Giardia from a beaver. It is also important to note that a variety of other animals including humans shed Giardia in their feces and the presence of Giardia in a wetland or watershed may be due to the presence of many different environmental factors.

Resources for Resolving Conflicts with Beaver

Western Massachusetts residents: Thanks to the Thieriot Foundation, the MSPCA has grant funding to help solve beaver-related flooding in Berkshire, Franklin, Hampden, and Hampshire counties. Read about grant requirements, view the application, and learn more.

MSPCA BEAVER FACT SHEET

The Beaver Population in Massachusetts
The Humaneness of the Conibear Trap, Steel Jaw Leghold Trap and Padded Leghold Trap for Capturing Beaver
Watch our Beaver video on YouTube
Beaver Solutions, Inc. – specialists in resolving human/beaver conflicts
Read more about Beaver trapping legislation

About Chipmunks

Chipmunks are smaller members of the same family of animals as tree squirrels, however, are distinguishable by the broad stripes along their backs. Squirrels and chipmunks primarily consume plant matter, and their diet varies with the seasons. They typically eat and store acorns and other nuts underground, which provide their caches of food for the winter. Spring flowers and growing buds are also eaten as the weather warms, and in the summer squirrels and chipmunks often eat fruits and berries.

Although they are good climbers, chipmunks prefer to live in burrows they often dig below tree stumps, fallen logs, woodpiles, retaining walls, and rock piles. Chipmunk burrows are two inches in diameter, plunge steeply downward, and have loose dirt around the entrance.

POSSIBLE CONFLICTS & SOLUTIONS

Chipmunks rarely cause extensive damage to yards and homes, and the enjoyment they provide to homeowners often outweighs any damage they cause. However, chipmunks are known to dig in lawns, eat ornamental plants and bulbs, and steal food from bird feeders. During the winter months, it is important to remember that chipmunks are only doing what is natural to them to find food during an often limited and sparse time of the year. Tolerance is especially important if at all possible during this time of year.

Bulbs can be protected by soaking them in certain repellents before planting, or by planting them below 1 x 1 inch wire or plastic screening. Spraying repellents on ornamental plants can help deter inquisitive squirrels and chipmunks. Wrapping ripening fruit trees with netting and using various squirrel-proof bird feeders can also keep them away. Most gardening and hardware stores sell netting and squirrel-proof bird feeders.

Sprinklers triggered by motion detectors can also discourage chipmunks and squirrels from investigating gardens.

View vendors that sell these products.

PUBLIC HEALTH CONCERNS

Chipmunks are generally not a significant source of infectious disease transmittable to humans.

MSPCA CHIPMUNK FACT SHEET

About Fishers

The fisher or “fisher cat” is not a member of the feline family at all, in fact, it is the largest member of the weasel family. Their physical appearance is similar to that of a weasel, long and slender with short legs and bushy tail. Males can weigh up to 16 pounds and females usually top the scales at a mere six pounds. Males grow to be approximately three feet long from head to tail while females tend to grow to an estimated two feet long. The tail of both sexes account for approximately one third of the animal’s length.

Fishers were hunted to a point of total elimination in Massachusetts by the end of the 19th century. Over the past few decades, Fishers have been slowly making a comeback and can now be found in most parts of the state.

Fishers breed from February to March, with an average one year gestation period. Their fertilized eggs remain dormant for up to 11 months before implanting on the uterine wall. Then, 12 months after implantation, an average litter of three kits are born. The kits are raised by the female until they are approximately five months old at which time they disperse in search of their own territory.

POSSIBLE CONFLICTS & SOLUTIONS

Although active year-round, it is unlikely that you will have the chance to see a fisher, even if for only a split second. They are timid and elusive and will generally try to avoid conflicts with humans.

Fishers have erroneously earned a reputation for being vicious. They are curious and playful yet shy and rarely attack an animal larger than a rabbit. Their main diet consists of mice, voles, squirrels, fruits, and berries and the occasional carrion. They are also one of the few predators that hunt porcupine. Pet owners should not allow their cats or small dogs to be outdoors unsupervised as they too can be seen as a meal.

Make sure you are not inadvertently attracting fishers by leaving open trash containers, pet food, or spilled birdseed outside, which can attract small rodents that can attract fishers. If a fisher does come into your yard, using scare tactics is your best option. Loud noises such as clapping your hands, yelling or gently spraying the animal with a garden hose will also send fishers on their way.

If you do experience fishers in your neighborhood, it’s a good idea to discuss these solutions with your neighbors.

PUBLIC HEALTH CONCERNS

As with all mammals, fishers can contract rabies.

MSPCA FISHER FACT SHEET 

About Foxes

Massachusetts is home to both red and gray foxes. Although cat-like in appearance and hunting behavior, fox are from the canid family, as are coyote, domestic dogs, and wolves. Red fox weigh 7-15 pounds and are the larger of the two species (about three feet not including the tail); gray fox are much smaller and usually weigh no more than 11-12 pounds. While it is not uncommon to confuse them by color since red fox can appear gray, and vice versa, a white-tipped tail indicates a red fox.

Fox live in diverse habitats, and readily adapt to suburban and urban areas. They are omnivorous, feeding on a variety of animals and plants, including squirrels, mice and fruits. Young fox are called “kits” and litters of three to eight are born in the early spring. They typically remain with their parents, learning to hunt, before venturing on their own in late summer or fall.

Fox conflicts with humans are minimal and do very little damage. Often they are blamed for damage they did not do, but benefit from, such as spilled garbage. Fox are typically shy animals and usually retreat near humans. It is not uncommon however, to see a fox in an area where they feel secure or in areas close to cover. Springtime in the northeast brings with it plentiful fox sightings. Fox generally try to be active when humans are not. Although primarily nocturnal (active at night), fox are often seen in suburban or urban areas during the day.

Fox are also fairly transient animals and frequently move from place to place. Fox present no danger to humans unless they are rabid, which is rare, or if they are being captured or handled. A fox will typically flee from an encounter rather than fight. If the fox appears healthy, enjoy the opportunity to observe this fascinating animal. If you notice signs of lethargy, stumbling, or erratic behavior, contact local animal control.

POSSIBLE CONFLICTS & SOLUTIONS

Fox are becoming more and more prevalent in suburban and urban areas. Human homes and yards provide them with optimal habitat and food. Common conflicts with fox often occur in the springtime when they are looking for denning sites and may build a den under a porch or shed. If a summer home has been vacant during the winter, it is not rare to return in the spring to a fox family within close proximity to the home.

In addition, humans often inadvertently invite fox and other wildlife to yards by leaving garbage in unsecured containers and feeding pets outside. If pets must be fed outside, have supervised feeding times and bring the food in immediately afterward. Fox will feed on rodents that feed on spilled seed from bird feeders. Temporarily bringing feeders inside can help keep fox and rodents away from your yard. Composting should be done using animal-proof composting bins and garbage should be stored in containers with tight lids or containers secured with bungee cords.

View vendors that sell critter-proof garbage containers.

Fox are typically cautious around people. When curious fox come close to yards and humans, you can discourage them by banging pots and pans together, gently spraying the animal with a hose, or by yelling or whistling. Installing a motion-sensitive attachment to sprinklers can also encourage fox to move on.

If a fox is denning under a porch or shed, tolerance is recommended for the family until the young are old enough to follow the parents out each night. Once the kits are seen playing and romping outside of the den, it is a sign they are maturing and will most likely be moving on soon. At that time you can follow-up with the necessary exclusion work to keep them from reusing the den.

Other techniques can be used if needed to encourage the family to move on their own more quickly. These techniques are intended to make the fox uncomfortable and to get the parents to move their young. Successful techniques include playing a radio and placing items with a strong human scent (i.e. dirty socks or old sneakers) at least two feet away from and not blocking the entrance to the den. Make sure to turn the radio off at regular intervals so that the mother feels safe enough to return to the den and retrieve her young. After it is certain that all young have left the den, install a one-way door which allows animals out but prevents them from reentering the den.

Go to our links and resources page to find vendors that sell one-way doors.

Only after it is certain that all animals have left the den, permanent exclusion should be done to keep the problem from reoccurring with another fox or other animal. Construction materials and hardware cloth, available at most hardware stores, should be used when critter proofing a deck or shed. It is important to bury the hardware cloth about 8 inches into the ground, and then to turn it outward in an L-shape to prevent foxes and other wildlife from burrowing under it.

Supervising pets while outdoors is important, as it is not uncommon for a fox to prey upon small domestic cats. Keeping cats indoors is the best preventative measure for them (which the MSPCA recommends regardless of whether or not there are fox nearby). Special consideration should be taken for outdoor pets like rabbits and poultry, which will need to be protected with secure hutches or pens.

PUBLIC HEALTH CONCERNS

Fox are a rabies vector species which means that they are a primary carrier of one of the major strains of this disease. Keep companion animals up–to-date on vaccinations and call your veterinarian if pets have contact with any wild animal. Similarly, if you have contact with a wild animal notify your doctor immediately.

MSPCA FOX FACT SHEET 

About Mice and Rats

Mice and rats are familiar, unwanted guests in and around homes and industrial areas. Killing is not a humane, long-term, effective, or economically sensible solution to problems with these little creatures.

Widespread throughout North America, they both breed year round, with mice having about eight litters of four to seven young annually, and rats producing twenty young each year. Both rats and mice are nocturnal and can enter dwellings through tiny spaces; mice through holes the size of a dime, and rats through holes the size of a quarter.

Two kinds of mice are most likely to cause problems for homeowners, native mice including the white-footed mouse and deer mouse (more common in rural areas), and the house mouse (anywhere there are buildings). Exclusion techniques are the same for all of these mice.

House mice prefer to live in comfortable areas between walls, behind appliances, and in unused drawers. Often the only sign of them is their small droppings, the size and shape of grains of rice, or any gnawed food items. Native mice will often seek the shelter of homes in early fall or winter. All mice are omnivorous, preferring grains and seeds, and can live without water if the food they eat is moist.

As with mice, two kinds of rats cause the most problems for people-the Norway, or brown rat, and the black, or roof rat. Norway rats are common in dense areas of human settlement, and live in eighteen-inch deep burrows underground or in lumber piles or similar environments. In the United States, black rats are most often found in coastal areas of the South, Southeast, and West. Black rats are excellent climbers and live higher off of the ground, usually in the upper levels of buildings or nesting in trees or vines.

Rats are good swimmers and jumpers, capable of leaping three vertical and four horizontal feet. Like mice, rats are omnivorous, eating a variety of plant and animal foods. Rats do need access to a water supply, though. Signs of rats in and around your home can include one-half to three-quarter  inch droppings, gnawed holes in baseboards or door frames, and the presence of burrows (although these can be confused with burrows of squirrels and chipmunks).

POSSIBLE CONFLICTS & SOLUTIONS

The most common problems resulting from rats and mice are the contamination of human food sources from urine and feces, and the possible gnawing damage to electrical wiring. With both mouse and rat problems, it is important to locate and eliminate their food and shelter sources, before permanently excluding them. Here are some suggestions:

  • Clean kitchen areas well, clean up spills quickly, and store food in the refrigerator or in sealed metal, glass, or heavy plastic containers. A diluted bleach solution will remove scent trails.
  • If possible, human and pet food should not be stored outside. If kept in a garage or basement, store it in sturdy plastic, glass, or metal containers.  Always feed pets indoors and thoroughly clean up the area afterward.
  • Trimming and clearing away brush and debris within 18 inches of house or building foundations can help eliminate protective cover and expose the animals’ burrows and entry points. To find entry points for mice inside, sprinkle powder along the perimeters of walls. This will show where there is mouse activity and where exclusion is needed.
  • Eliminate indoor mouse nesting areas, such as old clothing, books, or papers in bags or boxes. Store them in plastic containers.
  • The entryways that rats and mice use must be sealed for permanent exclusion from dwellings. To avoid trapping the animals in your home as you seal it, try to deter them before beginning any exclusion work. This is especially important if their entryway does not lead outside, but rather goes into a wall. The most effective deterrents are cleanliness, placing cat hair around entryways, and moistening rags with pure peppermint oil (a natural repellent to mice and rats).
  • To exclude mice, find their entryways (making sure to check in hard-to-reach places like behind the dishwasher and stove, under the sink and cabinets, near where utility pipes and wires lead into the house, and cracks in the foundation) and seal them. Steel wool, copper wire mesh, or quick-drying cement works well for smaller openings. For larger ones, cover balled up and stuffed galvanized window screening with caulking or cement can do the trick. Expanding foam insulation is often also effective. Attach rubber or metal runners at the bottom of doors if that is where the mice are gaining access.
  • After thoroughly cleaning areas and removing old woodpiles, ground cover, and trash, rats can be excluded using heavy one-quarter inch hardware cloth or heavy-gauge screening. Check all accessible areas such as heating vents and the openings where electrical or utility lines enter a building. Indoor holes in walls and floors can be sealed with caulking and foam sealants, however, because rats can chew through these materials, they need to be combined with copper wire mesh or aluminum window screening.
  • If a rat has an obvious exit-way, place food outside of it, and seal the hole after the animals have left. When rat infestation is a problem around buildings, blocking the foundation with a hardware cloth or a concrete L-shaped footer can prevent burrowing. Be sure to bury the footer at least a foot deep and extend it at a 90 degree angle outward for another foot.
  • Live trapping is another option for eliminating mice and rats, however, it should be used only as a last resort. The reasons for this are that trapping can break up family groups, trapped-and-relocated animals can find it hard to survive in new surroundings, and, unless conditions are made less appealing, new animals will simply move into the home or building to take the place of those caught in traps. If all other efforts to deter mice or rats fail, humane box traps will catch mice without harm and enable them to be released elsewhere (note that relocating wildlife is illegal in Massachusetts, so you can only release the animals on your own property).

View vendors that sell humane traps.

Only trap and release mice in warm weather, and release mice in an area close by the home or building where they were caught. This increases their chances of surviving both the elements and unfamiliar territory. Traps should be placed in areas where mice are present and close to walls, since mice like to travel along a wall or barrier. The traps can be baited with appealing substances such as peanut butter, popcorn, or sunflower seeds. Homemade traps can also be made by tilting a small bathroom or kitchen waste basket on its side with bait in the bottom of it and a ladder of bricks or books on the outside leading up to the top of it. Mice are likely to climb up the ladder, slide or jump into the bottom to get the bait, and not be able to climb back out. Any traps should be checked every few hours. Traps and wastebaskets can be cleaned with a mild bleach solution (one part bleach to 30 parts water) and used again.

Killing is not a humane, long-term, effective, or economically sensible solution to problems with mice and rats. As with most problems with animals in buildings, remember that unless proper exclusion, habitat management, and sanitary measures are taken, it probably won’t be long before new animals move in to take advantage of the available habitat. Poisons and sticky glue traps are especially inhumane, cause intense suffering of target and non-target animals, and should not be used. They can take days to kill, and often cause an agonizing death.

When dealing with these creatures, it is important to realize that the widespread killing of them at problem sites is not an effective solution, because as long as there is viable habitat, it is extremely likely that more will arrive, and in a relatively short period of time.

PUBLIC HEALTH CONCERNS

Both mice and rats can carry a number of diseases that are transmittable to humans, such as hantavirus and salmonellosis. It is important to clean areas with a mild bleach solution that have come into contact with mouse or rat droppings. Contact your doctor if ever bitten by a rat.

MSPCA MICE AND RATS FACT SHEET 
Glue Traps – Issues & Answers 

About Opossums

The opossum is a medium-sized mammal, about the size of a house cat, with gray to black fur, a pink nose, naked ears, and an almost hairless prehensile tail (able to grasp, hold or wrap around). They are North American’s only marsupial. They are solitary, slow moving animals who are most active at night, when they wander randomly in search for food.

Although they are excellent climbers and have been known to live in tree cavities, they prefer to den on the ground in old woodchuck burrows, brush/wood piles, and even in spaces under decks or patios. Opossums are omnivorous and are beneficial to humans because they cause very little damage and they consume undesirable insects, snails, and slugs.

Opossums are usually shy and harmless animals, with two main defense mechanisms.  First, if an opossum is frightened and unable to flee, she may display her teeth and hiss. Although this behavior might appear fierce, it is usually just a warning. Second, if they feel they are in real danger, they might “play possum” and have the appearance of being dead. When the opossum feels that he is no longer in danger, he will revive himself and move on.

The life span of opossums is very short- a four year-old wild opossum is a rarity. The average female probably lives through one breeding season in which time she may raise two litters of approximately a dozen young. Once born, the young instinctively crawl upward into the mother’s pouch where they will nurse for approximately 50 days. When they grow to be approximately three to four inches long, they crawl out of their mother’s pouch and ride around on her back. If they fall off, their mother may not notice because they are so small. These large litters help accommodate for the high mortality rate opossums face. They are independent of their mother at about three months old.

POSSIBLE CONFLICTS & SOLUTIONS

If an opossum has taken up residence under your home or shed, the first step is to encourage the opossum to move on with mild harassment techniques. Place loose leaves or loose straw in the entrance of the den, or items with a human scent (i.e. old shoes or dirty socks) at least two feet away from and not blocking the entrance to the den. You may also try turning on a radio a few feet from the entrance to the den. The opossum should move on in a day or so, but this will depend on how quickly she can find a safe replacement den nearby.

Exclusion using a one-way door is easy and effective. Wait until approximately two hours after dark when the opossum should be out foraging, and loosely close the opening with netting, straw, a one-way door, or another material. This will allow an animal inside to easily push his way out, while an animal on the outside will not be able to regain entry.

If an opossum has entered your house or a building, these slow moving animals can be guided out with a broom to gently nudge them along to an open door.

If you see an opossum in your yard or neighborhood, the best thing to do is to be patient since she will most likely move on within a short time without the need for human intervention.

While it is not common for opossums to raid garbage cans or gardens, you should discourage visits by opossums and other urban wildlife by purchasing trash containers with secure lids or using bungee cords to secure trash container lids, and cleaning up any food consumed outside by humans or pets.

Go to our links and resources page to find vendors that sell these products.

PUBLIC HEALTH CONCERNS

Opossums are susceptible to a variety of diseases but their role in transmitting these to humans is uncertain. Similar to all warm-blooded animals, rabies occurs in opossums, but is very rare.

MSPCA OPOSSUM FACT SHEET

About Porcupines

The North American porcupine is the second largest of all rodents. Porcupines have small heads and chunky bodies and grow up to 25 to 40 inches long from head to tail, with tail growing as long as eight inches. The male and female are approximately the same size and can weigh between 10 and 40 pounds. The front of a porcupine’s body is covered with long, yellowish guard hairs, while the back and tail are covered with up to 30,000 quills which are interspersed among dark, coarse guard hairs. The quills are the most recognized and misunderstood porcupine feature.

Porcupines are slow-moving, near-sighted animals that would be ill equipped to avoid being killed by predators if they did not have this unique natural defensive system. They are usually benign creatures but like any other animal, they must be able to defend themselves from predators. When a porcupine feels threatened, he turns his backside to the enemy and tries to drive his tail against the assailant. Porcupines may also produce a noxious odor and chatter or clack their teeth as a warning sign. Contrary to popular belief, porcupines do not throw their quills; animals and people must actually come into contact with the quills for the quills to detach and become embedded.

Porcupines are primarily nocturnal animals who rest during the day in hollow trees and logs, underground burrows, or in crevices found in rocky areas. They are most commonly found in coniferous or evergreen forests, but have also been found in deciduous woodlands and among Creosote in North American deserts.

Porcupines are strict herbivores and eat virtually all species of trees found within their range.  During warm months, porcupines eat leaves, buds, nuts, fruit, twigs, and green plants. During the winter, they chew through the outer tree bark to eat the tissue-like inner bark. Porcupines have been known to strip or “girdle” tree bark from both the trunk and upper limbs with their two front teeth, which can sometimes kill the tree. A porcupine’s two large, front teeth will continue to grow throughout her entire life.

Breeding occurs in the fall or early winter and is followed by a 210 day gestation period (the longest rodent gestation period). In the spring, the female gives birth to one or two young. They are born with soft quills that harden within hours of birth and their eyes open approximately 10 days later. After two weeks, they start to eat solid food but they continue to nurse for four to five months. The average life expectancy of a wild porcupine is five to six years, while their captive counterparts have been known to live up to ten years.

POSSIBLE CONFLICTS & SOLUTIONS

Porcupines have a benevolent disposition and, unless provoked to defend themselves, they cause no real harm. The primary conflict with porcupines occurs when a person or pet ignores the warning signals and ends up with quills lodged in their skin. Each porcupine quill has a greasy coating and at the tip is a small, backward projecting barb that serves to work the quills ever deeper into the flesh. Once imbedded, quills cannot easily be pulled out.

Serious injuries can result when humans or animals come in contact with a porcupine if the eyes, mouth or throat are afflicted. If a human or pet has been “quilled”, it is important to seek immediate medical or veterinary treatment to ensure that the quills are removed completely and correctly.

Due to a diet low in sodium, porcupines may try to satisfy their dietary need for salt by chewing on wooden structures, tools, and other materials used in outdoor work or recreation. They are attracted to almost any object that has been handled by humans because of the salt found in human sweat. Porcupines are also attracted to the glue used to bond plywood on wooden structures. Car tires and hoses may also be chewed on for their mineral content or road salt coating.

Solutions to conflicts with porcupines include tolerance, fencing and repellents. Attaching a motion sensor to a sprinkler will encourage porcupines to move on as well.

Go to our links and resources page to find vendors that sell these attachments and repellants.

If you need to protect trees from being chewed, you can place a metal band around the trunk of the tree, about three feet off of the ground. This will keep the tree from being climbed and the bark stripped. This band should not be left on the tree longer than necessary because insects may accumulate and lay eggs under it. If you are protecting a fruit-bearing tree during the winter, it is important that the band is placed three feet above the expected maximum level of snow. To protect plastic tubing and hoses, you can use a capsaicin-based “hot sauce” repellent that is registered for use against porcupines.

PUBLIC HEALTH CONCERNS

Porcupines do not carry any communicable diseases that are of concern to humans, except, as with any mammal, they can contract rabies. The main safety issue is the possibility of being quilled. A veterinarian should treat pets that have had a run-in with a porcupine. Humans with embedded quills should consult a physician immediately.

MSPCA PORCUPINE FACT SHEET

About Rabbits

Two types of cottontail rabbits live in Massachusetts: the Eastern Cottontail and the New England Cottontail. While similar in appearance, the New England Cottontail has shorter ears and a slightly smaller body size. Both species can be differentiated from the snowshoe hare by their lack of season variation in their fur coloring. There are twelve species of cottontails in the United States, with the Eastern Cottontail being the most common.

Cottontails like to live in brushy areas, such as fields bordering woodlands, and in brush piles and thickets. They survive well in the suburbs and get all they need for food, water, and shelter there. Cottontails are most active at dawn and dusk and forage for food into the early nighttime hours. In the spring and summer they eat grasses and leafy plants; in the fall and winter they primarily eat buds, twigs, bark, and young trees.

Eastern Cottontails are sexually mature at about two months of age and breed from April to September. They usually have three to four litters of about five kittens. New England Cottontails are sexually mature at two years of age, breed from March to about August, and have three litters a year. Nests typically are made in small depressions in the ground and are lined with grass and fur from the mother.

POSSIBLE CONFLICTS & SOLUTIONS

Because rabbits enjoy browsing on plants in yards, damage to gardens and ornamental shrubbery is the most common conflict between humans and rabbits.

Rabbit damage to plants is identified by the neat-clipped appearance of browsed vegetation, as well as obvious animal tracks and scat in the form of small piles of pea-sized pellets. (Deer droppings look similar but are larger in size).

The most effective way to keep rabbits out of a flower or vegetable garden is to erect a fence around the garden two to three feet high. This is best done using chicken wire or hardware cloth (a heavy gauge woven wire mesh fencing material) staked about every four feet and buried into the ground at least eight inches (preferably 12 inches) with an outward L-shaped bend at the bottom to prevent animals from burrowing underneath the fence.  Chicken wire and hardware cloth can be purchased at most gardening and hardware stores. Read more about garden and lawn conflicts and humane solutions.

Commercial repellents with the active ingredients ziram, thiram, capsaicin, or dentonium saccharide may work to repel rabbits in the yard or garden (read labels before using these products on plants that will be eaten).

Go to our links and resources page to find vendors that sell repellents. Remember to always follow the directions on any commercial product purchased.

The following homemade hot pepper repellent from can also be effective, when applied to flower bulbs and plants:

Ingredients: 1 chopped yellow onion, 1 chopped jalapeño pepper, and 1 tablespoon of cayenne pepper.

Directions:  Boil ingredients for 20 minutes in two quarts of water. Let cool and strain through cheesecloth. Apply with spray bottle.

This homemade repellent will deter any animal where it is applied and will last three to five days. If using this mixture with a vegetable garden make sure to wash vegetables well before eating them.

Remember that this homemade repellent and other repellents need to be reapplied regularly, as well as after rain, in order to be effective.

Sprinklers triggered by motion detectors can also discourage rabbits from investigating gardens. Vendors that sell these products are available on our links and resources page.

Protect tree bark from rabbit chewing by wrapping trees with hardware cloth or wire mesh. The cloth or mesh should be wrapped loosely around the tree with at least four inches of space between the tree and the cloth/mesh to allow for growth. It should also extend into the ground about six inches, and at least two feet above the snow line. Hardware cloth and wire mesh can be purchased from most hardware stores. Additionally, keeping grass mowed short and removing ground cover near the garden will also help limit rabbit movement and reduce damage.

PUBLIC HEALTH CONCERNS

Like any mammal, rabbits can get rabies. Rabbits also can be infected with tularemia, which is transmissible to humans if an infected rabbit is handled or eaten undercooked. Ticks that transmit Rocky Mountain spotted fever may use rabbits as a host.

MSPCA RABBIT FACT SHEET

About Raccoons

The raccoon is a small nocturnal mammal, typically 20 – 30 inches long and weighing 15 – 30 pounds. However, in urban areas where they thrive on our refuse, raccoons can weigh up to 60 pounds. Their fur is grayish brown with a bushy banded tail and black masked face. Raccoons appear to flourish in places where humans have developed the land. They are highly adaptable, extremely intelligent animals that live well in cities, suburbs, and rural environments.

Raccoons are omnivorous and will eat almost anything from fish, insects, eggs, and young mammals to fruits, vegetables, and nuts. Most active at night, raccoons sometimes also forage for food by day. They will make their nests almost anywhere—in tree cavities, brush piles, abandoned burrows, chimneys, attics, crawl spaces, storm sewers, haystacks, and barn lofts—and usually have more than one den site available for use at any one time.

Raccoons are as intelligent as dogs and cats, and their front limbs provide them with great manual dexterity. They have routines for food and shelter, and remember places that are good for each.

POSSIBLE CONFLICTS & SOLUTIONS

Raccoons can cause damage such as dumping trash cans, disturbing gardens and ponds, and injuring cats or small dogs. They may also be a nuisance for homeowners by entering attics and chimneys.

If raccoons have taken up residence in or around your home, the first step is to encourage them to move out. This is easily accomplished by making your home and yard less inviting, and following up with exclusionary methods.

Please note that it is especially important that the animals leave before you seal their entrances in the spring and summer months when young are typically present. Listen closely for raccoon young, called “kits”, who often sound like whining puppies. If kits are present in your home, please tolerate the raccoon family for a few weeks to ensure that the kits are not abandoned to die in your home.

First, inspect the area around your home to determine how the raccoons are getting in. Then, close off all but one entryway. Here are some ways to encourage the animals to move on:

  • Place a flashlight (switched on) in or as close to the den site as possible. The light will annoy raccoons. Be sure to turn it off at regular intervals so that the mother will feel safe re-entering the area to retrieve her young.
  • Play a radio near the den site day and night to further annoy them. Again, be sure to turn it off at regular intervals so that the mother will feel safe re-entering the area to retrieve her young.
  • If possible, trim back any tree branches or limbs that are close to the house. If it is impractical to eliminate all branches, tree trunks can be wrapped with two-foot wide sheet metal beginning two feet above the ground. This prevents raccoons from climbing the trees.

Closely monitor the raccoons to determine when they have moved, and after the family is gone, tightly secure the area to prevent re-entry. If there are no young present, install a one-way door over the entrance, allowing the raccoons to leave but preventing its re-entry. Once the raccoons are gone, be sure to permanently seal the entryway with heavy gauge wire mesh to prevent other wildlife from moving in. Make sure that you do not exclude the mother while young are still in your house – she will find another way in to get her babies, even if it means ripping the shingles off your roof.

Also, make sure your chimney is securely capped. Raccoons have little hands that can easily dislodge loose screens or covers. They are agile climbers, and females like to use the flue or smoke shelf as a den.

Invasive techniques, such as using smoke or fire to drive animals out, should never be used as the mother will most likely abandon the site resulting in the death of the kits that are physically unable to climb. Trapping adult raccoons often leads to separation and probable death of the young, and also makes the habitat available for more animals to move in.

If a raccoon enters your house, close the doors between the animal and the rest of the house, isolating the raccoon in that one area. Then, open doors and windows leading to the outside in the area where the raccoon is located. Give the animal a way out and she will leave on her own. You can also call your local animal control officer for help. Remember to leave the capture and handling of wildlife to the experts. Don’t forget to secure pet doors, especially at night, to prevent raccoons from using them to enter your home.

Vegetable and fruit gardens can be susceptible to raccoon damage, often as foods are ripening. Attaching a motion sensor to your garden hose, and using mylar balloons or strips and pinwheels will deter raccoons from getting into your garden. Spreading cayenne pepper over an area can also often be an effective repellent against raccoons. For persistent raccoons, single strand electric fencing can be an effective exclusionary method.

Go to our links and resources page to find the products mentioned above.

PUBLIC HEALTH CONCERNS

Raccoons are one of the primary carriers of the rabies virus in the United States, and are classified as one of four rabies vector species. The other three rabies vector species are foxes, skunks, and bats. Raccoon rabies occurs primarily in the eastern United States. Do not leave pet food outside where raccoons can to get it and potentially spread disease to your pets through contaminated bowls.

Another serious public health concern is a roundworm parasite that can infect raccoons. Humans can become infected if they accidentally ingest or inhale roundworm eggs that are passed through raccoon feces. Care should be taken and protective masks and clothing should be worn when cleaning areas that were inhabited by raccoons. Raccoons are also hosts for Giardiasis.

MSPCA RACCOON FACT SHEET 

About Skunks

Skunks are beneficial, non-aggressive creatures with a unique system of self-defense. If you’ve noticed the persistent faint smell of a skunk, you may have one living around your home or yard. Look for a four to six inch diameter hole near buildings or woodpiles, or for a den under a porch or deck. Skunks are omnivorous, primarily eating insects, grubs, fruit, eggs, human garbage, and sometimes even small vertebrates such as mice.

Skunks have adapted well to human environments and live happily under porches, patios, sheds, and decks as well as in hollow logs, wood or rock piles, and abandoned burrows. Young, called “kits”, are usually born in May or June, and remain in the nest for about two months before accompanying the mother to forage. Except when young are present, skunks are usually solitary animals. They are primarily nocturnal and can be active throughout the year.

Because skunks don’t see very well, they are unlikely to notice you unless you harass them. If you encounter a skunk, back away slowly and quietly and you should be able to avoid getting sprayed. Skunks are used to being preyed upon from above by owls, so be careful not to frighten them. Signs that a skunk is about to spray include stamping the ground with her front feet, shaking her tail, and fluffing her fur.

POSSIBLE CONFLICTS & SOLUTIONS

To discourage skunks from moving in with you: Block or screen entry points to the spaces under your home and other buildings using material that extends eight to ten inches underground as skunks are good burrowers; fill openings under concrete structures with dirt; and remove all brush piles from your property.

 If a skunk has already taken up residence under your porch or shed: There are several humane harassment techniques that can be used to encourage the skunk move on.

First, it is critical to check if young are present in order to ensure kits are not orphaned. Listen for noises that will indicate the presence of kits, such as squeaking, whining and rustling. Remember not to touch or approach any young that you find, as your scent may deter the mother from returning and claiming her young. If kits are present, please tolerate them until they are old enough to accompany the adults out of the den.

If tolerance is not an option, place loose straw or grass in front of the opening to the den, place items with a strong human scent (i.e. dirty sock or old sneakers) at least two feet from the entrance to the den and not blocking the entrance to the den, or turn a flashlight and/or radio on near the entrance to the den. Make sure to turn the radio and flashlight off at regular intervals so that the mother can feel safe re-entering the den to retrieve her young. The mother should move out in a day or so, depending how long it takes her to locate a new den.

If these techniques do not work, try using commercially available repellants to encourage the skunks to move on.

As a last resort, in a well ventilated area, pour a small amount of ammonia on a rag and seal inside a plastic bag. Place the bag at least two feet from the entrance to the den and to the side of the entrance. Do not put the rag closer than two feet from the entrance and do not put it directly in front of the entrance, as the ammonia fumes could injure any kits still inside, and could deter the mother from re-entering the den to remove them.

Once it is certain that there are no young present, install a one-way door over the entrance to the den. This will allow skunks to leave through the door but will prevent them from re-entering through it. View vendors that sell these products.

After a week, when it is certain that all animals have left the den, seal up the entry hole with construction materials to prevent other animals from moving in and taking advantage of the available habitat.

If a skunk is caught in a window well, carefully and quietly place a rough board in the well so the animal can climb out. Skunks are not good climbers and need something to grip onto.  After the skunks have climbed out of the window well, install a window well cover to prevent other wildlife from becoming trapped inside.

The following recipe to neutralize skunk odor is safe for pets and clothing: Combine 1 quart of 3% peroxide, 1/4 cup baking soda, and 1-tsp. liquid laundry or dish soap. In addition, using liberal amounts of tomato juice, lemon juice, or vinegar will make the odor tolerable.

PUBLIC HEALTH CONCERNS

Like any mammal, skunks can carry rabies. 

MSPCA SKUNK FACT SHEET

About Squirrels

Squirrels are highly adaptable creatures who have adjusted well to the urban and suburban landscape. Consequently, squirrels are an abundant species worldwide. North America is home to a wide variety of tree squirrels and an even larger number of ground squirrels. In Massachusetts, gray and red squirrels are most common, while the fox squirrel and gray squirrels are the species most frequently involved in conflicts with humans.

Red squirrels are the smaller of the ground squirrels, averaging about 12 inches long, while gray squirrels are typically between 17 and 20 inches long. Fox squirrels are the largest tree squirrel and measure 10 to 15 inches in length. Flying squirrels also inhabit Massachusetts, but primarily emerge at night. Similar in size to fox squirrels, they average 10 to 15 inches, but also have flat tails for gliding through the air.

Squirrels primarily consume plant matter, and their diet varies with the seasons. They typically eat and store acorns and other nuts underground, which provide their caches of food for the winter. Spring flowers and growing buds are also eaten as the weather warms, and in the summer they often eat fruits and berries.

Eastern gray and fox squirrels have two litters each year, the first between February and April and the second between August and September. Squirrel activity is highest during mating season, and after young squirrels, called “kittens” are driven out of their mothers’ nests to disperse into new territory.

POSSIBLE CONFLICTS & SOLUTIONS

While many enjoy watching squirrels in their own backyards, these intriguing and acrobatic animals may also cause frustration if they enter and nest in our homes. Squirrels naturally den and raise young in tree cavities and leaf nests, using trees for food and protection from predators and the elements. However, attics, chimneys, and small openings in buildings are also very appealing. They often enter the house through uncapped chimneys, unscreened vents, or openings left by loose or rotted boards. They can also occasionally cause damage by building nests in walls and floorboards. The best way to prevent these issues is to keep your house in good repair, trim back tree branches that extend over the roof of your house, and install a chimney cap.

If a squirrel becomes an unwanted tenant in your home or building, know that in most cases squirrels are easier to deal with than other wildlife, because, unlike most other wild animals, most species of squirrels are active during daylight hours – in the early morning and late in the afternoon.

In order to ensure that babies are not orphaned, it is critical to check that kittens are not present. Locate the nest and listen for noises that will indicate the presence of young, such as squeaking, whining and rustling. Remember not to touch or approach any nest that you find, as your scent may deter the mother from returning and claiming her young. If kittens are present, please tolerate them until they are old enough to accompany the adults out of the structure.

If you are certain that no kittens are present, locate the hole that the squirrels are using to enter and exit the structure and install a one-way door over it. This will allow the squirrels to leave through the door but will prevent them from re-entering through it. After two weeks, or when you are certain that all animals have left the structure, remove the one-way door and seal up the entry hole with construction materials to prevent other animals from moving in and taking advantage of the available habitat.

If a squirrel is stuck in your chimney, tie one end of a rope around the chimney or afix it to a secure object on your roof and hang the other end of the rope down the chimney. The squirrel will use the rope to climb out.

If a squirrel is trapped inside a room in your home, know that the squirrel does not want to be there; give the squirrel a way out and he will use it. Close all doors and windows leading from the room to the interior of the house. Then, open all windows and doors leading from that room to the outdoors.  If a squirrel is stuck on the second floor, open a window and hang sheets out that window, leaving the bottom end as close to the ground as possible. The squirrel will use the sheets to make it safely to the ground.

If a squirrel is digging in your lawn, eating your ornamental plants and bulbs, and/or stealing food from bird feeders, know that squirrels are only doing what is natural to them to find food. Tolerance is especially important during the colder times of the year. Bulbs can be protected by soaking them in certain repellents before planting, or by planting them below 1 x 1 inch wire or plastic screening. Spraying repellents on ornamental plants can help deter inquisitive squirrels. Wrapping ripening fruit trees with netting and using various squirrel-proof bird feeders can also keep them away. Most gardening and hardware stores sell netting and squirrel-proof feeders. Installing a motion sensor attachment on your sprinkler will also encourage the squirrels to look elsewhere for their next meal.

Go to our links and resources page to find vendors that sell these attachments and repellents.

PUBLIC HEALTH CONCERNS

Squirrels are carriers of disease organisms that can affect humans, but are rarely documented as doing so. Rather, squirrels are often regarded as a beneficial indicator of environmental quality. As in all mammals, rabies can occur in squirrels, but squirrel transmission of the disease to humans has not been documented.

MSPCA SQUIRREL FACT SHEET 

About Woodchucks

Woodchucks, also known as groundhogs, land-beavers, or whistle-pigs, are the largest member of the squirrel family and reside throughout the east and mid-west sections of the United States and throughout most of Canada. Their name is derived from their Algonquin name wuchak and has nothing to do with wood. In the wild woodchucks live an average of six years, while in captivity they have lived up to 14 years. Woodchucks produce one litter of two to six “kits” annually in late April or early May. By August the kits leave their mother and begin preparing for hibernation.

As one of the few species that enter a true hibernation, woodchucks build separate winter burrows where they typically reside from October to March.

They are excellent diggers and live in complex underground systems of burrows that can average up to 66 feet in length, with multiple chambers and entryways. A main entrance is usually distinguished by a mound of soil around it, with several secondary entryways often used as escape doors. Burrows are often near rocks, tree roots, or other supportive structures that help to prevent predators from gaining access to them. Woodchucks are vegetarians and can often be seen grazing near the edges of fields and roadways.

POSSIBLE CONFLICTS & SOLUTIONS

Woodchucks leave a clean cut on plants that they browse, unlike the jagged edges of plants browsed by deer. As a result, they often cause trouble for gardeners. Using novel stimuli like using scarecrows, balloons, and pinwheels, or putting a beach ball within the area they are disturbing and letting it blow in the wind, can deter them. Visiting your garden often and mowing long grasses can also help. Specific plants can be protected by sprinkling them with Epsom salts (needs re-application after every rain) or by covering them with fabric or gallon jugs with the bottoms removed. You can also try placing rags soaked in ammonia on posts placed at intervals around the perimeter of the garden. The odor is enough to deter most unwanted visitors. The rags must be re-soaked when the smell of ammonia fades and after each rain. Note that ammonia fumes can harm animals’ lungs, so don’t use it too closer than two feet from where animals may be, especially when babies may be present.

The most effective means of ridding small gardens of hungry woodchucks is to install at least three to four foot high wire fencing around the perimeter of the garden, burying it at least one foot underground with an outward bend in an L-shape. Woodchucks are proficient at digging, and have no trouble going under a fence that is not deep into the ground. Making sure the fence is somewhat loose and not pulled taught will make it more difficult for an interested groundhog to climb up. Attaching a motion sensor to a garden hose will also encourage woodchucks to move on. Check out our garden and lawn section for additional humane solutions.

Woodchuck burrows can sometimes cause problems for homeowners if they are under buildings or too close to gardens. In these cases it is best to try and encourage the woodchucks out of these spaces, and then permanently exclude them from getting back into the burrow.

Before doing so, listen for noises that will indicate the presence of kits, such as squeaking, whining and rustling. Remember not to touch or approach any young animals you find, as your scent may deter the mother from returning and claiming her young. If young are present, please tolerate them until they are old enough to accompany the adults out of the burrow.

If tolerance is impossible, removing ground cover around the burrows and partially digging out the entryways can help to encourage the mother to take her young and move on. If these techniques do not work, try using commercially available repellents to encourage the woodchucks to go elsewhere.

As a last resort, in a well ventilated area, pour a small amount of ammonia on a rag and seal it in a plastic bag. Place the bag at least two feet from the entrance to the burrow and to the side of the entrance. Do not put the rag closer than two feet from the entrance and do not put it directly in front of the entrance, as the ammonia fumes could injure any woodchucks who may be inside. It is important to never use toxic substances like gasoline to try and get woodchucks or other burrow inhabitants to leave, as they are inhumane and toxic to both people and animals.

Check for inhabitants by loosely placing hay or grass into the entrance and see if it is displaced the next day. Once you are certain that there are no young present, a one-way door can be used to permanently evict woodchucks from burrows. Next, you will need to permanently seal off the burrow to prevent other wildlife from moving in. Excavate the area around the entrance, and bury square pieces of heavy-gauge welded wire three feet in size, and at least one foot deep around the entrance. As woodchucks are such great diggers, the wire should extend well past the burrow entrance on all sides. After sealing off a burrow entrance, it is a good idea to observe the area and make sure that no new woodchucks are trying to gain access.

Go to our links and resources page to find vendors that sell these products.

PUBLIC HEALTH CONCERNS

Woodchucks are not a significant source of infectious diseases transmittable to humans. As all mammals, they can contract rabies, and may become very aggressive in the final stages of the disease.

MSPCA WOODCHUCK FACT SHEET