Squirrels! They are just so cute, aren’t they? The picture with this blog is one that was taken at a rest stop while on vacation. These squirrels were obviously very use to human interaction, but at the same time these rodents can cause quite a bit of damage to the unsuspecting homeowner. First it starts with hearing some scuffling in the attic, and possibly seeing some remnants of nut shells strewn around the attic or lawn from a nut tree (pecan, walnut, etc.) in close proximity to your house. Upon inspection, you might see some soffit on your house torn back, or gnawed through, fascia board damaged, or even the gutter torn back to reveal a damaged board. These are a few ways that these “furry friends” might be entering the home. Those are problems, but even bigger ones may be around the corner. Chewed electrical wiring which can cause fires (which both squirrels and rats/mice will do), fleas, ticks and the risk of salmonella infection or leptospirosis if you come in contact with their feces and urine. If the squirrel has been nesting in the attic and has done widespread contamination, the insulation may need to be removed/replaced depending on the severity of the situation.
Squirrels are rodents. The family tree includes tree squirrels, ground squirrels, flying squirrels, prairie dogs and woodchucks – just to name a few. Their teeth are designed to chew and gnaw, but they do not digest cellulose (wood), and their teeth continue to grow throughout their life. Tree squirrels are able to rotate the hind feet so that they are able to descend a tree head first, looking like they are defying gravity. Squirrels live in almost every habitat that man lives in - from the rainforest to the desert. They avoid the polar-regions (too cold?) and the most arid of deserts (they need that water). Squirrels are mostly herbivores, feasting on seeds and nuts, but many will eat insects and even small vertebrates like lizards or other rodents. Squirrels typically have slender bodies with bushy tails and large dark eyes. The fur is normally soft and silky, and the color of squirrels can vary between red, grey, or even black within one species, like the eastern gray squirrel.
Most squirrels will die within their first year of life. Some adult squirrels in the wild can live up to 10 years. Squirrels that have been raised in captivity can live up to 20 years.
The homeowner or a qualified professional needs to do a thorough inspection of the property inside and out to ascertain the areas of access, what areas are affected and the strategies that need to be incorporated to take care of the nuisance. Cutting back tree limbs that may be touching or close to the home helps to reduce highways that are used as access points, but will not eliminate the problem since squirrels are very flexible and have a long jumping range (8’) eight feet straight up and (5’) five feet across. Exclusion work consists of actually fixing the areas that the squirrels are getting into the home by using wood, or metal material and securing with screws, nails, and other means necessary that the squirrel would not so easily remove. If you are not sure as to whether the problem is a squirrel or could be a rat (if the feces is not identified or not seen), it sometimes becomes necessary to monitor the situation after doing the exclusion work, and may include placement of secured glue boards or other monitoring tools to ensure the best treatment strategy possible. Depending on your location, you will have to check with a professional or with your local or state laws regarding the proper treatment, release or disposal of squirrels.
If you ever find a dead squirrel out in your lawn – don’t touch it. You don’t know what it died from. If you are not able to get local or county departments to handle the removal, make sure that you wear disposable gloves, and use a shovel to put into a plastic bag. Make sure to double bag and tie. Then dispose of as your local laws provide.