All animals play an essential role in the natural ecosystem. Each species uniquely contributes to various functions such as eating rodents, snakes, or insects. At times, some of these animals can become a nuisance to humans. Each state has its own rules on what constitutes an animal being a nuisance, and how it should be handled. Many common nuisance wildlife in Florida require a special permit to trap and relocate if necessary. Alligators are one such nuisance animal that requires not just a special permit, but special approval to trap and relocate. You can find a list of wildlife trappers on the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commissions Trapper Search page at https://public.myfwc.com/HGM/NWT/NWTSearch.aspx
Nuisance wildlife is defined as animals that:
- Causes or is about to cause property damage
- Presents a threat to public safety
- Causes an annoyance within, under, or upon a building.
Many such animals can fall under this nuisance statute that you can find right in your backyard. Some are more common than others. Raccoons, skunks, opossums, alligators, and coyotes are some of the first that come to mind living in Florida. The following are some more common nuisance wildlife found in Florida.
These rodents of unusual size also called river or swamp rats, are not a native species to Florida. Once traded for their fur, they originate from South America. They are recognizable due to their orange teeth, which do not occur from bad dental habits, but rather from the iron in the enamel on their teeth. They look similar to beavers, but instead of a flat tail, they have a round rat-like tail. Nutria measure about a foot long and can weigh up to twenty pounds. Nutria lives mainly in freshwater areas but can also survive in brackish water areas. Nutria has flourished across the Southeast, Pacific Northwest, and Chesapeake Bay areas because they have few natural predators. While Louisiana seems to have more trouble with population control, ever since Florida began protecting the alligator, Nutria numbers have stabilized. Nutria is commonly reported in the Tampa Bay area.
Nutria is a problem in coastal areas because of their burrowing habits and voracious appetites. Nutria is an herbivorous species, but consume up to twenty-five percent of their body weight in aquatic vegetation each night. This, coupled with their burrowing habits, destroys wetland areas and causes flooding. Nutria prefers stems and roots of vegetation, thereby weakening the natural root systems that help keep retention ponds and other such waterways from flooding neighboring areas.
Florida is home to two types of fox, the gray fox, which is native, and the red fox, which was most likely introduced into the state by hunting clubs. FWC considers the red fox a naturalized species. This means that although the red fox is not native, it has adapted to the environment and does not cause disruption to the natural ecosystem. The red fox is the most recognized of all foxes with its red fur, black legs, and white underbelly. They typically weigh from fifteen to twenty pounds and measure about two feet in length, not including the tail. Red fox prefers to live in uplands with plenty of open pasture and weedy fields.
The gray fox, Florida’s native fox, is smaller in size and is often confused with the red fox because its fur can have a reddish tone to it. They have mostly gray fur and white underbellies with black tips on the fur running around the neck and down the spine. This characteristic gives them the appearance of a mane. The head on a gray fox has less of a distinguishable slope between the snout and eyes. The gray fox prefers wooded areas for habitat. Gray foxes are sometimes referred to as “tree foxes” because they are the only member of the Canidae family that can climb trees.
Both species are nocturnal animals, hunting for food such as rabbits, mice, and rats. Foxes can become nuisance animals, mostly for farmers and gardeners. They will kill chickens as well as uproot and destroy gardens. The gray fox is an opportunistic feeder, meaning it will look for and make a meal out of most edible items. They will feed on small mammals, but also eat vegetables, berries, amphibians, fish and reptiles. Foxes can also become a nuisance when they make dens under decking, sheds or other structures. Foxes who live near urban areas tend to be much less shy from humans than their rural cousins. Foxes see humans as a source of food and, like coyotes, will rummage through refuse to find a meal. They can also injure or kill some pets like cats and small dogs. Larger dogs will scare away foxes as they are natural predators. Owls, hawks, and other raptors will also prey on young foxes. Keep foxes at bay utilizing the same method of hazing as coyotes. Yell, use air horns, or shakers to discourage or otherwise scare away foxes. Keep garbage lids secured and do not leave pets or their food out overnight or even unattended on screened porches.
Wild Hogs [Feral Pigs]
Wild hogs are a big problem for Florida landowners. They are not native to the area but are found statewide. Wild hogs, wild boar, or feral pigs, as they are also known, were introduced by Spanish explorers over 500 years ago. Wild hogs can weigh up to one hundred and fifty pounds and are four to five feet in length. They look like most other pigs and can come in a variety of colors. They hunt for food by using their snouts to root through gardens, yards, and agricultural areas. When they are done, they move onto the next location leaving behind a mess for landowners to clean up. Keeping feral pigs from intruding on your land is a difficult task. Fencing will slow them down, but often they will plow right through any obstacle obstructing the path to where they want to go. As they forage for food, they can damage underwater sprinkler and irrigation systems, causing thousands of dollars in damage.
Feral pigs, like other swine, like to wallow in shallow waters. This, in turn, muddies the waters disrupting the other aquatic life that resides there. This wallowing causes bank erosion and has been linked to algae blooms. As the pigs roam through forests and woodland areas, they damage trees, which then starts a ripple effect on the ecosystem. As feral pig populations increase, human-pig interactions become more frequent. These interactions include injury to humans as boars stampede when they feel threatened or cornered. Damage to vehicles that strike wild boar can be as extensive as hitting a deer. Feral hogs are such a nuisance in Florida that the FWC has little to no restrictions on hunting them. However, you always must gain landowner permission before attempting to hunt them. Feral pigs are known to carry up to thirty different diseases.
The FWC has categorized the non-native nine-banded armadillo as naturalized. Armadillos are an odd-looking but easily recognizable species. They are a little less than a foot and half long, with a long skinny tail, large ears, and a pig-like snout. They generally weight about eight to twelve pounds and are about the same size as a domesticated cat. Armadillos are famous for their poor eyesight. This fact does not stop them from causing damage to properties in Florida. Armadillos hunt for insects, other invertebrates, and vegetation much the same way wild hogs do. They turn over the soil with their snouts digging up lawns, crops, and flower beds. To curb armadillo intrusions, keep yard fencing at a minimum two feet height and an eighteen-inch depth. An armadillo’s main food source comes from bugs, so overwatering your lawn is one way to attract both unwanted insect and insect larvae as well as feral hogs and armadillos. It is best to water your property in the early morning hours giving your soil a chance to dry out before nocturnal armadillos are looking to scavenge.
Armadillos can also become a nuisance when they burrow under buildings and structures. Armadillos often keep multiple burrows in an area for an easy escape from predators. Chasing out a nuisance armadillo is quite easy. Make that burrow uncomfortable for them to return to. Some people have had success playing music loudly outside the entrance to a burrow, or flooding a burrow with light to illuminate the resting place. Hunting of armadillo is relatively unrestricted by the FWC. However, if you live-catch this species, it must be humanely euthanized. Other methods of hunting armadillo are permitted with landowner permission. Wildlife trappers can also be utilized for capturing and otherwise disposing of unwanted armadillos.
How to Deter Nuisance Wildlife in Your Yard:
There are many methods of wildlife deterrents available. To start, try blocking the animals from gaining entry in the first place by placing protective barriers such as bird netting, garden fencing, deer fence, or other plastic or mesh barriers around the areas you want to protect. Remember, some species like fox and armadillos can dig, so be sure to set the anchor depth to at least eighteen inches. Hazing and scare tactics also work in an emergency and sometimes for good. These methods include creating a coyote shaker, which can also be used on foxes and armadillos (and any animal that might be scared off by loud sounds). You want to create an aversion or a reason why the nuisance animal should look elsewhere to forage. Mylar foil strips are great for creating both auditory and visual aversions for wildlife. Because they are light, they easily blow in the wind changing shape and light reflection patterns with each and every movement. They also make an unpleasant noise for the animals to wander upon. Though not as effective as yelling, airhorns, or shakers, this method also helps keep unwanted birds away. Remember when deterring one nuisance pest, you might be inviting another, so always double-check your methods before implementing them.
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission:
Wild Florida: Ecotravel Guide