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The most dangerous animals in your backyard

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Although uncommon, black bears have been known to forage for food and water in suburban lots. (©iStockphoto/Thinkstock) Although uncommon, black bears have been known to forage for food and water in suburban lots. (©iStockphoto/Thinkstock)
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By Sara Elliot

Your backyard should be a safe haven for your family and pets, but all too often you spend the summer months battling mosquitoes, bees and other small flying or crawling pests. As if that wasn't enough, there may be larger dangers hiding under your bushes, too. Urban sprawl has eliminated important habitat for larger critters like skunks, possums and even bears that may decide your oak tree, flowerbed or crawlspace is the next best thing to home.

Actually, your trash may attract wildlife in the first place, but after they recognize that your property is a nice place to hang out and snag a tasty meal, you could start seeing those cute raccoons, deer or foxes a lot more often. Once established, wild animals can damage your property and be difficult to discourage or eradicate. They can transmit potentially life threatening diseases, and many of them will attack when frightened or challenged. A few may even view your pets as a potential food source.

Let's take a look at some regional wildlife threats you should be on the lookout for.

In the West

The West is wild in more ways than one. Here are some wild species that may cause problems in the West and also in other areas across the country. Many common wildlife species have extensive territories, so coyotes, raccoons, opossums, brown bats, skunks and other small wild mammals may be encountered in greater or lesser numbers from coast to coast:

Coyotes - May attack animals, especially when coyotes are traveling in packs. This is a common sight in parts of Southern California.

Raccoons - Can cause mischief like raiding garbage cans and can be responsible for extensive property damage. Raccoons have been known to gnaw their way through roofs to nest in attics.

Black bear - Although uncommon, if your home is near wild lands, black bears have been known to forage for food and water in suburban lots. These large mammals are very dangerous, particularly if you encounter a mother with her cubs. They are also the supreme mammals in their respective habitats, which means they have no natural predators. Bears aren't easily frightened, and when they are, they're as likely to attack as they are to run away.

Mountain lions - These large cats are indigenous to the U.S., but they rarely cause problems in urban settings. Mountain lions are beautiful to look at, but they're also powerful, predatory carnivores that can maim and kill with their large claws and powerful jaws. As with black bears and other large mammals, encountering them is more likely if your property is adjacent to forested areas, federal lands or large, wooded parks.

Foxes - Foxes have been known to attack small domesticated animals. They may also be carriers of diseases like rabies.

Bats - Although most bats are beneficial in the landscape, they can carry diseases like rabies.

Rattlesnakes - Poisonous snakes occur in a number of areas of the U.S., but none is more feared than the rattlesnake. Distinctive for the ringed rattle on the tip of its tail, the rattlesnake likes to stay cool in shady areas, like under shrubs, during hot summer afternoons. This makes them hard to spot and potentially lethal.

In the Northeast

These wildlife pests are common to the Northeast, but a few, like rats and gray squirrels, can occur almost anywhere in North America.

Deer ticks - These small ticks (about an eighth of an inch long), can carry Lyme disease. Although not an animal per se, tick related outbreaks of Lyme disease are becoming more common in the U.S., especially during the summer months. Ticks feed on deer, and white tailed deer have become abundant in recent years, so tick populations are up too.

Groundhog - Groundhogs don't attack or bite, but they are prodigious diggers. Left unchecked, a groundhog can undermine the foundation under a deck or even a home. If you have improvements on your property, be on the lookout for them.

Garter snakes - Although not poisonous, garter snakes do bite. There are more than 120 snake species in the U.S., 17 of which are venomous. Play it safe by instructing your children to stay away from all snakes they encounter in the wild.

Bobcats - These big cats can be found in most of North America, but their nocturnal habits make them hard to spot.

Gray Squirrels - Squirrels are typically considered pretty harmless, but they can carry rabies and be quite destructive in their own right. Like raccoons, squirrels can gnaw their way through shingles and other roofing materials to nest in attics, causing extensive damage and a hefty repair bill.

Rats - Rats are found where there is shelter and a food source. That means they can make themselves at home in most places where people reside. Using poison to kill either rats or mice isn't always a good idea, though. Sick rats are often eaten by domesticated pets that can then become ill from poisoned rat meat.

In Northern Climates

If you live along the Canadian border or in Alaska, you may have read about residential incursions from wild moose, caribou and even grizzly bears. These large mammals usually keep to themselves, but they can still venture into human habitation when food sources in their usual hunting or foraging grounds become depleted.

In Warm Climates, Humid Climates

One of the biggest wildlife threats in warm, humid climates of the U.S. is from alligator attacks. This large reptile is indigenous to the U.S. and China, and it can be a problem in Florida, Louisiana, and parts of Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi. A full grown alligator can easily attack and overcome a human adult.

Dealing with Animal Encounters

To a degree, having wildlife in your neighborhood is a good thing. Native bird species help control insect populations, as do brown bats and some other common bat varieties. Birds and bats sometimes also help pollinate crops and distribute plant seeds to neighboring locations. Small carnivores and carrion birds like vultures maintain animal populations and perform essential housekeeping functions in nature, too. Problems arise when native species lose habitat or become overpopulated, forcing them to hunt for food and shelter -- sometimes in your backyard.

These tips will help you make your property less attractive to potentially dangerous or destructive wildlife:

- Large mammals feed on smaller mammals, so it's always a good idea to keep all types of non-domesticated critters off your property, and that includes adorable squirrels and cute bunnies.

- The biggest draw to your property is usually the aroma wafting from your trash can. Keep a lid on your trash, and go the extra step of placing your food trash in a sealed plastic bag. Put your garbage out on trash pick-up day instead of letting it sit outdoors for days.

- Remove dying vegetation and fallen tree branches from your property. Rotting vegetable material attracts insects, and insects attract critters.

- Trim shrubbery from around areas where your family and pets play. Snakes and small vermin can hide under shrubs and even in tall grass. The less extra foliage you have in the areas you frequent, the safer you'll be from bats, bugs, small rodents and larger mammals.

- Make a visual check of your backyard before exiting your home if you live in an area adjacent to a wildlife refuge or any other habitat where large mammals may be present.

- Never feed wild animals.

- Never approach a wild animal that appears to be "friendly." It may actually be sick or dying and could make you sick.

- Don't deal with wild animals yourself. If you see a snake or a wild mammal on your property, call your local animal control office for assistance.

- Keep outdoor pets inoculated against rabies and other infectious diseases.

Learn more about which animals are likely to be in your area, and take the necessary precautions to ensure you, your children, pets and landscaping are protected.

This article was originally posted on IdealHomeGarden.com

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