Baby Opossums in Your House!

December 13, 2016

Baby opossum season is thankfully coming to a close, but only for a short while! We get quite a few calls here in the Live Animal Programs office when these bumbling troublemakers are out looking for a new place to call home.

Photo by Jill Franklin

A few years back, a young opossum made its home in the engine block of a Museum pool vehicle that hadn’t been used for a while. You can see with the leaves he dragged in, it was a perfectly cozy den. Luckily for him we didn’t start the engine and he was an easy eviction. More recently, a friend of an NHMLA Staffer wrote in a panic questioning how to get an opossum out of her house. It had pulled off a window screen and attempted to make itself at home.

Photo by Leslie Gordon

But we’re lucky. According to one rehabber I know, she gets calls several times a day early February/March and July/August. Of course, the young marsupials aren’t really looking for trouble, but they absolutely find it in our yards, homes, sheds, garages, engine blocks… you name it.

When they emerge from mom’s pouch and start riding on mom’s back, or tagging along behind her is the time when they start getting into trouble. If the mom did not become roadkill, and her scampering young were not grabbed up by a dog or cat, (the former scenarios comprise most of the rehabbers’ calls to rescue babies) they eventually start to look for a place to call their own. And they can call anything a home--under your garage, porch---almost anywhere.

We get our fair share of calls, but the reason it gets especially crazy for rehabbers is because opossums are virtual baby factories. Unlike many mammals, the baby season can happen multiple times a year, and at around 13 babies a litter, that’s a lot of babies! And they are in a hurry, too. They gestate for just 12 days, and when they are born (the size of honeybees), they have just a few minutes to race to one of 13 teats in mom’s pouch. They latch on and nurse for about 100 days, but toward the end of that period, they get large and start riding on mom’s back garbage-man-style. And at just about 3 to 4 months of age they are ready to go on their own! It is shocking to most people to see how small they are when they are technically ready to go. But remember--for an animal that lives maybe 3 years tops, every month is rather like 3 years of ours. And those first few months out of the pouch are clearly a real obstacle course for them.

So what to do if you run into one of these little kiddos when the next season comes around?

#1 Please don’t attract them by feeding. We strongly discourage feeding most any wild animals, especially nonnatives like opossums.

#2. If they are discovered in your trash cans, typically either gaping their giant mouths or playing dead, simply tip the can so they can get out, or put in a ”ladder” so they can escape. This can be a branch, an actual ladder, a crate, almost anything. Often they fall in and get stuck there. Remember, the playing dead routine is very effective. They go stiff, emit an odor and even allow flies to land on their open eyes! If you are unsure, walk away and ensure privacy/escape for at least 2 hours. If it is still there, you may have a dead opossum. If not, your ladder probably helped it get to freedom. 

#3. If they are in your home, you can typically treat them like an equivalent-sized cat. If simply shooing them out with a broom didn’t work and they are very small, throwing a towel over them usually works. Wear heavy gloves if you are worried. If they are larger, your presence is usually enough. But leave a clear, unobstructed exit back out of your home and you'll make outdoors seem more appealing. Just make sure a curious dog or neighbor isn’t blocking the path.

The best advice is to be patient. They’re slow, but they really don’t want to tangle with humans.

City of Los Angeles Animals Services – Wildlife
323-225-9453

Coast and Canyon Wildlife Rehabilitation
310-480-1760

County of Los Angeles Animal Control – Wildlife
562-728-4882

Pasadena Humane Society & SPCA – Wildlife
626-792-7151

(Posted by: Leslie Gordon)


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Abandoned Baby Animals: What Should You Do?

November 3, 2016

Earlier this month, I received an e-mail from a friend of mine asking if I wanted to adopt “a tame squirrel.” I paused and re-read her sentence, and then saw a photo of an extremely cute baby squirrel.

Photo of the baby fox squirrel (Sciurus niger) - an introduced species to the L.A. area.

Through several e-mail exchanges I learned that my friend’s coworker saw the baby squirrel in a park near her home, and was surprised at how unafraid it was of people (it came right up to her and let her touch it). Worried that this squirrel was a lost or abandoned pet, she picked up the squirrel, placed it in a box, and took it to her office. Everyone in her office was amazed that the squirrel was not afraid of people, and that it would let them touch it. That’s when I received the e-mail about the squirrel.

My first thought was, “Oh no! Why was that squirrel picked up?” I did some chastising since I told them that the baby squirrel may not have been lost or abandoned, and that since it was a baby that could explain why it wasn’t afraid of people. I knew that the person who picked up the squirrel thought she was helping, but taking an animal away from its home is not recommended. My friend asked if they should release the squirrel at a nearby golf course, and I quickly said, “No!”

Animals in a successful habitat know where food and water can be found, they know where they can take shelter to avoid predators and the weather, and have enough space to avoid high rates of competition. If this squirrel was placed in that golf course it would not have been familiar with its surroundings, would not know where food, water, or shelter could be found, and it is not likely that the squirrels living in that golf course would have accepted it. Also, if animals are successful in establishing themselves in new areas, they can have a negative effect on the animals already there (example 1, example 2, example 3).

I spoke with Leslie Gordon, who is one of the Managers in NHMLA’s Live Animal Program, and she had some great insight about "helping" wild animals:

It is not just unwise, it is illegal to keep a wild animal without a permit. Squirrels especially make terrible pets. Even those dedicated to raising them (with permits) note they are flighty, inconsistent, difficult, and …well…”squirrelly”.

Fear is a healthy thing for animals- friendliness is not. Wild squirrels (or any animal) can carry a plethora of zoonoses (diseases or parasites that can spread to humans). Squirrels, in particular, can also carry the plague.  So when you see one that seems “unafraid”, that doesn’t necessarily mean it wants to be pals- It may be very ill.

A lack of fear can also mean it has been habituated to humans by feeding. If you have ever heard the term “a fed (blank) is a dead (blank)” that is what it refers to. Squirrels become habituated to humans and unafraid of them. When this happens they become food aggressive and begin to chase any human they find. It begins a loop of aggression (squirrels especially seem to find it satisfying when we run away screaming) that ends up with a squirrel being trapped by the City due to complaints and killed, or worse a kid getting bit. This is why rehabbers go to great lengths to avoid the animal seeing them or associating them with food, so it can be released again and keep its fear of humans.  Don’t feed squirrels (or any wild animal)! 

If you see an animal who is unafraid it is not wrong to leave it alone, especially if it seems otherwise safe, and simply report it to City animal control. They do bring animals to rehabbers when they can.  If it seems in danger of being killed or injured, and you feel you can keep yourself safe from disease or bites, it is okay to bring it to a rehabber or shelter yourself.

I encouraged my friend and her coworker to call a wildlife rehabilitation center, and they found one in Malibu that specializes in squirrel rescues, Coast & Canyon Wildlife Rehabilitation. The rehabilitation center was able to accept the squirrel, and through the care of their trained wildlife rehabilitators they believe it will be able to be reintroduced successfully into the wild.

If you see a wild animal that you think needs help, it is recommended that you contact a wildlife rehabilitation center and/or animal control, rather than to try and help the animal on your own. Below is a list of places you may contact.

California Wildlife Center

818-591-9453

City of Los Angeles Animals Services – Wildlife

323-225-9453

Coast and Canyon Wildlife Rehabilitation

310-480-1760

County of Los Angeles Animal Control – Wildlife

562-728-4882

International Bird Research & Rescue Center

310-514-2573

Pasadena Humane Society & SPCA – Wildlife

626-792-7151

South Bay Wildlife Rehab

310-378-9921

Squirrelmender Wildlife Rehab

805-338-0481

Wetlands and Wildlife Care Center

714-374-5587

 

(Posted by: Richard Smart)


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Gecko Hunting!

August 16, 2011

Instead of spending a cozy night in, reading Biology of Spiders (did I mention we're opening our Spider Pavilion at the end of September?), I went to Chatsworth on a gecko hunt! At 8:30pm I parked on a dark street to meet up with a bunch of other lizard geeks (or Herpers, as they much prefer to be called). Among the party was my Museum colleague, Leslie Gordon (a self-proclaimed lizard lady and manager of our live vertebrate program), and Dr. Bobby Espinoza, Cal State Northridge's professor and researcher in the Laboratory of Integrative and Comparative Herpetology.  

Mediterranean House Gecko, Hemidactylus turcicus, trying to hide in a crackWe were here in deepest, darkest suburbia, looking for Mediterranean House Geckos (MHG), an introduced species of lizard from, you guessed it, the Mediterranean. As mentioned in an earlier post this is the first population of these lizards found in Los Angeles, and a boon to Bobby for his research. We were collecting the lizards so Bobby could sprint them down a racetrack! Seriously, Bobby is looking at temperature dependent performance in multiple gecko species. This will be the first batch of MHGs that Bobby has sent down the track. In total we collected 14 individuals. I wonder how they'll fare on the track?Here are some pictures from our adventure:

Herpers looking high and low

Me showing off my awesome headlamp and geckos!

Bobby and one of his students counting lizards


(Posted by: Lila Higgins)


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