Tag Archive: Nuisance

The American Alligator: a new nuisance for the panhandle?

The American Alligator: a new nuisance for the panhandle?

I recently saw a photograph of an American Alligator (Alligator mississppiensis) crossing Perdido Key Drive on a heavy rain day.  This encounter would surprise some, and unnerve many.  The majority of the nuisance wildlife calls I receive are for snakes.  I have never received a call for an alligator but no doubt, my colleagues in central and south Florida have.  They certainly will with the landfall of Irma.  Just as humans relocate for storms, wildlife does as well.  High, dry ground is a need for all, and as our friends return to their homes after the storm, they will no doubt encounter creatures in the debris that can be a bit unnerving.

Alligator basking on a shoreline; photo: UF/IFAS Communications

“Nuisance” is in the eye of the beholder. Defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary as being annoying, unpleasant, or obnoxious, a nuisance species is one we would rather not have in our yard.  Snakes are one of those.  Most of the people who call about snakes wish them no harm; they just do not want them on their porch or in their pool.  Venomous snakes in particular raise anxiety levels, especially when children or pets are around.  Though we do not get many calls on alligators, the feeling a homeowner would have if they found one in their driveway would be the same.

 

There were no calls on the alligator on Perdido Key. Actually, not everyone believed the photo to be legit.  I cannot verify it, but I did receive a call earlier this summer when an American alligator was found swimming and basking on a Gulf beach in Navarre and later near Ft. Pickens.  Though not as common as they are in central and south Florida, alligators do live here and they are found on our barrier islands.  Though encounters with them are rare, how should a homeowner deal with this potential nuisance? When I give a program on snakes I typically go over four points.  Let us go over the same with the alligators.

 

Is it venomous or not?

Obviously, this is not a question here – no crocodilian is venomous. They do have bacteria in their mouths that have caused problems for some who have survived an attack, but there is no venom.  However, in south Florida identification is still important because there is more than one crocodilian roaming the landscape.  The American Crocodile (Crocodylus acutus) is a native species found in coastal waters of south Florida, the northern reach of its range.  The Speckled Caiman (Caiman crocodylus) is an exotic species from Central and South America that is now found in freshwater canals and lakes of southeastern Florida.  It is likely that post Irma cleanup will include encounters with these two.  However, this is not likely for the panhandle – our winters are too cold.

 

How do I avoid encounters?

Generally encounters with nuisance wildlife occur for one of two reasons; (a) we have moved into their habitat or (b), they have come to us.

With the population of Florida growing at an ever increasing rate, currently 21 million people and a growth rate of 1.77%, development continues to expand into habitat where these animals have remained out of our sight for some time. As we continue to move into these habitats, encounters with nuisance wildlife will increase. They will be forced to visit our yards and pools.  It is no different with bears.

In other cases we, either knowing or unknowingly, provide food and shelter for them. Predators tend to select the easiest prey to kill, the ones that take the less energy.  Human development tends to provide habitat for vermin, such as rats, in concentrated areas.  This makes hunting for predators, such as snakes, bears, and alligators, much easier – and they will take advantage of this.

 

With alligators, (a) is more problematic than (b). Alligators have a natural fear of humans and do not typically seek us out looking for easy prey.  They seem to prefer to live and hunt away from us.  However, feeding alligators changes this and thus, it is a felony to do so in our state.  In 2015, the state legislature developed a tiered penalty system for assessing fines and charges.  As we continue to develop in areas where alligators live, it will be harder to avoid encountering them.

 

What do I do if I encounter one?

The general nature of wildlife is reacting to predators, prey, reproduction, and shelter. Alligators are top predators and feed on a variety of species.  They are opportunistic hunters, selecting prey they can easily swallow and are relatively easy to catch.  Much of these are smaller animals.  If the opportunity to make a large kill presents itself, they will – however, they will drown the creature and leave it underwater to soften the carcass so they can swallow.

 

The method of capture usually involves lying still and waiting for prey to move within range. If encountering an alligator the questions that come to mind are: (1) am I within range?  (2) are we near water? – remember they need to submerged large prey.  Keep in mind that small children and pets are easier prey and care should taken when in alligator habitat.

 

Resources provide the following suggestions if an encounter occurs:

  1. They have a nature fear of humans and will try to retreat. This is true. Provide an avenue of escape for the animal. Do your best not to corner it.  Remember it may react to pets and children as prey and could approach.
  2. If they hiss, they are warning you that you are getting too close and they are feeling threatened. Back away slowly. Sudden movements could be misinterpreted and they may defend themselves by attacking.
  3. Keep in mind they are fast moving for several yards, so do not think of them as slow and lethargic.
  4. Females guarding a nest may attack. They will charge to drive you off but typically return to the nest once you have moved to a safe distance (safe in their minds). Alligators build nests of leaf litter above ground in quiet water areas within their range. You may encounter one while hiking along shore. Avoid these nesting areas.

Alligator basking on the Escambia River; photo: Molly O’Connnor

And what if I’m bitten?

This question makes sense if you are talking snakes. With snakes, you are bitten and the snake withdraws.  So the question comes up, now what? Not so much with alligators.  Though alligators tend to feed on smaller and softer prey, as they increase in age and size, their skull structure adjust to where they can crush turtle shells and mammal bones.  Forces have been recorded between 12 and 9452 Newtons, depending on age.  When they bite they do not typically withdraw, but rather will drag you into water.  Do whatever you can to avoid being dragged into water.  Since 1948 there have been 388 alligator attacks, 24 were fatal.  That averages to 6 attacks/year statewide and about 1 fatality every 4 years – so it is not very common.  But remember, human development is encroaching and we will need to learn to live with them as our ancestors did when the animals were more numerous.

 

In Florida, an alligator is not considered a nuisance unless it is at least 4 feet in length. If you feel there is a nuisance alligator in your neighborhood you can call.

1-866-FWC-GATOR

 

References

 

American Crocodile: Species Profile. National Park Service. https://www.nps.gov/ever/learn/nature/crocodile.htm.

 

Caiman. 2017. Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. http://www.myfwc.com/wildlifehabitats/managed/american-crocodile/caiman/.

 

Erickson, G.M., A.K. Lappin., A.K. Vilet. 2003. The Ontogeny of Bite-Force Performance in American Alligator (Alligator mississippiensis). Journal of Zoology. Vol 260 (3). Pp. 317-327. https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/journal-of-zoology/article/the-ontogeny-of-bite-force-performance-in-american-alligator-alligator-mississippiensis/150E92D79C5FAEB821DDBF563888E773. P

 

Florida Population 2017: Demographics, Maps, and Graphs. 2017. World Population Review. http://worldpopulationreview.com/states/florida-population/.

 

Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/nuisance.

 

Statewide Nuisance Alligator Program. 2017. Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. http://myfwc.com/wildlifehabitats/managed/alligator/nuisance/.

 

Swiman, E., M. Hostetler, S. Webb Miller, M. Main. 2017. Living with Alligators: A Florida Reality. University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Science Extension Electronic Data Information Source (EDIS) publication WEC203.

http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/UW/UW23000.pdf.

 

Texas Parks and Wildlife. If You See An Alligator. https://tpwd.texas.gov/huntwild/wild/species/alligator/safety/index.phtml.

 

Wildlife Feeding Rules and Penalties. 2017. Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. http://myfwc.com/news/resources/fact-sheets/feeding-rules-and-penalties/.

PG

Author: Rick O’Connor – roc1@ufl.edu

Sea Grant Extension Agent in Escambia County

Rick O’Connor

Permanent link to this article: http://franklin.ifas.ufl.edu/newsletters/2017/09/15/the-american-alligator-a-new-nuisance-for-the-panhandle/

Steps for Dealing with Nuisance Wildlife

Steps for Dealing with Nuisance Wildlife

White-tailed deer, a species that is both highly sought after by sportsmen and an unwanted nuisance to many. Sportsmen modify habitat to attract deer and homeowners can modify habitat to stop attracting deer. 
(Photo by Eric Zamora)

As a County Agent, I receive a wide variety of calls from clients relating to wildlife. The majority of these calls are quite positive; clients need help improving wildlife habitat or simply need a creature identified to satisfy their curiosity. However, from time to time, situations develop where wildlife behavior becomes a nuisance to a client. The following are some key concepts that can be applied to stop ongoing nuisance wildlife and/or lessen the likelihood of future nuisance wildlife causing issues around your home. For clarity, nuisance wildlife are specific animals (not an entire species) that are causing a specific problem.

Animals frequent various areas because those areas provide resources necessary to meet the animals’ needs. Animals have three basic needs: 1) Food 2) Water 3) Cover. If an animal(s) is frequenting your property and causing some kind of damage, as to become a nuisance, it is incredibly likely that the animal’s presence and nuisance behavior are related to the animal seeking food, water, or cover.  With this concept in mind, there is a four-step process that can be utilized to alleviate the issue.

Step 1: Identify the species of animal responsible for the nuisance behavior. Accurate identification of the species causing the problem is key to developing a successful plan of action for stopping the issue. Do not make assumptions or guesses, use available resources to make a definitive identification. Animals can generally be identified by looking at the type of damage caused (i.e. soil disturbance, tree bark damage, vegetation clipping, garden damage, etc.), signs left by the animal (scat, tracks, etc.), and the time of day/night the damage occurs. Careful observation of these factors should lead to an accurate identification of the nuisance animal.

Step 2: Determine why the animal is frequenting your property. After you have identified the problem animal and familiarized yourself with its normal behaviors you should be able to deduce what the animal finds appealing about your property. In some cases, the damage caused by the animals plainly shows why they are there, other times it might not be as obvious. Remember, they are likely there in search of food, water, or cover.      

Step 3: Implement steps to address the situation. After you have determined “what & why” you can formulate an appropriate plan for addressing the issue. Generally, the plan will include steps in one or more of the following categories:

1) Habitat modification – This is generally the most practical approach to dealing with nuisance wildlife. In its simplest form, habitat modification is simply removing or altering whatever environmental factor is attracting the nuisance wildlife. The most common example of habitat modification is the removal of wildlife food sources (i.e. pet food, bird feeders, easily accessible garbage and/or compost).

2) Deterrents – Any measure that restricts access to the resource desired by the nuisance wildlife. These measures can include, physical barriers (fencing, etc.), hazing or scare tactics (eyespot balloons, holographic foil, motion-sensitive sprinklers, noise-makers, dogs), and chemical repellents. Deterrents are generally more expensive than habitat modification and their effectiveness tends to decrease over time.

3) Trapping or killing the nuisance animal – These are only to be considered as last resorts. Even when trapping or killing is the only option, they generally only provide a temporary solution to the problem if the environmental factor drawing the animals is not also addressed. Additionally, many state and federal regulations that dictate when trapping or killing wildlife is permissible.

Step 4: Evaluate your level of success and make necessary adjustments. Observe any changes in wildlife behavior and modify your approach as necessary. Begin with habitat modification; if that is not effective make sure the correct modification(s) was made. If no additional modification can be made look at deterrents. Only if all habitat modification and deterrent options have proven ineffective would you move on to trapping or killing. As you move through this process you may wish to seek professional assistance. Contact your county’s UF/IFAS Extension Office for general advice or FWC for a list of professional nuisance wildlife trappers.    

 

This article was adapted from Overview of How to Stop Damage Caused by Nuisance Wildlife in Your Yard by Holly K. Ober and Arlo Kane. There are links throughout the article to a series of publications by the same authors that explore the various topics in detail.

PG

Author: Mark Mauldin – mdm83@ufl.edu

I am the Agriculture and Natural Resources agent in Washington County. My program areas include livestock and forage, row crops, and pond management.
http://washington.ifas.ufl.edu

Mark Mauldin

Permanent link to this article: http://franklin.ifas.ufl.edu/newsletters/2017/08/18/steps-for-dealing-with-nuisance-wildlife/