Small Mammals

The following remarks also apply outside Southwest Florida because none of these animals is unique to us. Anywhere people live in proximity to their natural habitat, these animals will interact with people in much the same way everywhere. It’s just what they do.

Smaller mammals include raccoons, skunks (in dry areas), armadillos, and opossums.  All of them, with the possible exception of the armadillo, can inflict serious damage on you if they are cornered. All are mostly nocturnal, so, if you see one acting oddly during the middle of the day, it might be a sign the animal is sick. They all can carry rabies among other diseases, so it is prudent not to approach them.

Raccoons likely have the corner on “cuteness”. But, it is not how they see you. You are merely opportunity….



And, cuteness has a dark side….

  • Coons can be lethally dangerous even in the best of times. They don’t have the same notions you have about private property, who was there first, etc.  They also carry a roundworm that can be transmitted to humans (rarely) and to dogs (not so rarely).
  • Don’t leave pet food outside, even on a screened lanai. Raccoons will find it and if they find it,  in the raccoon mind, it is theirs. Your opinion to the contrary is irrelevant.
  • Cover and lock garbage cans. You should check out the heavily fortified dumpsters on Sanibel. If you do, you’d think the place was plagued with ravenous, garbage-raiding, grizzly bears. Nope. Just really smart coons.

Raccoons may also decide to use your attic as a nursery. They will rearrange the insulation and generally redecorate. You’ll hear them up there, moving stuff, discussing who will be going out that night to forage….

Before they decide to tear a hole in your ceiling and attempt to evict you,  you might want to call a professional trapper.

Skunks usually avoid people and are nocturnal to boot. But, like coons, they love pet food and will find a way into your lanai to get at it. If you surprise one, it is almost always too late. If you startle and corner the skunk, odds are it will be too late.

Skunk (photo from Tom Friedel,

Best to just back off and wait until skunk leaves. If you don’t, you’ll be a while getting rid of the fragrance.

  • Even a healthy skunk is his own worst enemy sometimes. They seem to think they’re immortal and, perhaps as a consequence, are unafraid of things like you and, say… automobiles. Be careful driving, especially at night, lest you be left with a skunk’s parting, terminal, enduring gift.
  • Do not put pet food outside or on your lanai.

If, in spite of all we’ve told you and against your mother’s advice,  you succeeded in pissing off a skunk and it let you know about it, here is a suggested skunk remedy.  It’s supposed to work on your dog, too.  It might even work on the dog that likes to roll in other really gross stuff….  And, no, I haven’t tried it and hope I never have to.

Armadillos are a recent addition to our immigrant fauna, having expanded their range to the southeast US as the climate permitted.

Armadillo (photo by Michael Overton)

One of my favorite riddles is: “Why did the chicken cross the road?”" Answer, “To show the armadillo it actually could be done”. That’s where you’ll likely see most of them. Dead. Road kill. It’s too bad.

At night, amadillos will dig in your yard looking for grubs and other insects. They leave  isolated skinned places and small holes. If you want to avoid that, then get rid of the lawn bugs. The armadillo hears and smells actual bugs; he’s not guessing. The armadillo is just pursuing opportunity and, indirectly telling you you have work to do in your yard. When you do it, he’ll move on to destroy your neighbor’s yard. Until the neighbor catches on.

Opossums occur throughout North America. A Florida ‘possum is pretty much like a Texas or Virginia one, although the rules for controlling them may differ from place to place. Like raccoons, they’ll get into your garbage if you aren’t careful. But, they really become a problem when they decide to move in with you. Or more precisely, into your attic or garage where, unless you thoughtfully provided one,  they may add a bathroom to their new bedroom.

Unhappy Opossum

The picture shows the expression you’re likely to see. Notice the teeth…all fifty of them?