OPOSSUMS – Didelphis virginia
The “possums” found in Wisconsin are oddly the “Virginia Opossums.” Some people use the term “possum” interchangeably with the “opossum,” but technically speaking, the “possum” is a marsupial that lives in Australia, not in the U.S. However, we still call ’em possums! Because these little critters have such a varied diet, they have successfully inhabited the entire state. They will eat dead animals, birds and their eggs, frogs, worms, snails, berries, corn, and any garbage laying around.
The opossum is North America’s only marsupial. Their pregnancy lasts only about 12 days, and the newborns then immediately crawl into the pouch and start nursing. While a possum will give birth to 12 to 22 babies, it only has 13 teats. Any newborn unable to find one to attach to will die of starvation.
Possums are rarely a problem. However, they carry some serious diseases such as leptospirosis, tuberculosis, relapsing fever, tularemia, spotted fever, toxoplasmosis, coccidiosis, trichomoniasis, and Chagas disease. They may also be infested with fleas, ticks, mites, and lice. Opossums are hosts for cat and dog fleas, especially in urban environments. This flea infestation on opossums is particularly concerning for transmission of flea-borne typhus which is problematic in some of our more western states. While most humans are never infected by opossums, there is always danger that young children may come in contact with their feces while playing in their yards and become infected. Additionally, the protozoa Sarcocystis neurona is spread to horses in the feces of opossums. Horses can ingest the protozoa from contaminated feed, hay, water or pasture. This protozoa causes a disease in horses called “equine protozoal myeloencephalitis,” or EPM. This is a serious neurological disorder which can sometimes be stopped by drug treatment, but at other times is fatal.
I found this opossum one evening when I was letting the dogs out. I have a potting shed built onto the south side of the house. It’s 3 sided, without a door, because we put the cat food and water on the counter. Possums like cat food! You can see how he knocked over the container with all my plant tags and made a mess. I had a phone jack out there. That old phone cracks me up!
EASTERN COTTONTAIL – Sylvilagus floridanus
Rabbits can do a lot of damage, but with outdoor cats they don’t too much of a problem in the yard. Rabbits won’t jump over anything over 18″ high, so even a very low fence will protect plants from them. Rabbits are coprophagreous. This means that they will eat their own feces, usually as soon as it’s been deposited. There is a special chamber in their stomach where it’s digested, and the rabbit receives extra nutrients from this practice.
The rabbit population correlates directly to the coyote population. There will always be two to four years in a row that an entire summer will go by and we might see one rabbit. That’s because the coyotes have eaten them all. During this time the coyote population reaches high numbers, because of the availability of food. Once the rabbits are gone, the coyotes will start thinning out till they reach a low. During this period, the rabbit population will start increasing again, as there are so few coyotes kiling them. This cycle repeats itself over and over again.
RACCOON – Procyon lotor
These animals can cause a lot of damage! The key is in eliminating anything that attracts them into the yard. That would include dog or cat food left out at night, bird feeders they can get into, and garbage cans. We used to have terrible problems with them. One night we heard racket on the deck, and when my husband switched on the light and opened the door, there were so many raccoons that took off running up the bank and into the woods behind the house that he couldn’t count them all, but figured it was over 30. There were several females and all had young with them. We were able to eliminate outdoor attractants except for cat food. Since we have outdoor cats, food will be left out there. About four years ago I put a radio on the ledge above the counter where the cat food is. I put it on loud enough to scare off any critters, and leave it on all night long. From that point on, we’ve only had one raccoon come to eat cat food, and that was a very young one. It won’t be coming back, if you know what I mean!
Raccoons are nocturnal, and if we see one during the day it means it most likely has rabies, so it will be dispatched. Thankfully, we’ve not had that happen. But raccoons are the most common animal infected with rabies; even more than bats!
In the years before I put a radio out by the cat food, the raccoons were there almost nightly. This area also served as my potting shed. It’s got a nice big counter-top on it. Once night I heard noise and went out to find yet another raccoon. He was hiding behind a garbage can. My job was to get him out of the potting shed and out in the open so my husband could shoot him. I just had to take a few pics first!
One night several years back my husband was gone to a meeting. I heard some noise in the back yard and when I flipped on the light I noticed four raccoons in the tree I had my bird feeders hanging from. I grabbed the shotgun and took aim, but suddenly realized they were little babies, and so cute. I just couldn’t shoot them! So I grabbed my camera instead! Oh well…..
COMMON SNAPPING TURTLE – Chelydra serpentina
Snapping turtles survive the harsh Wisconsin winters by going into a type of hibernation under the ice on ponds and lakes. A large snapper can weigh up to 50 pounds. They have great vision and hearing, and their only real threat is man. In the wild they have a lifespan of about 30 years. They eat fish, plants, and sometimes small mammals (mice) and waterfowl.
When a female is ready to lay her eggs, she will usually leave her home territory and travel up to three miles away, crossing land and roads, and covering about a mile a day, until she finds just the right sunny and sandy spot close to a small stream or body of water. She will lay anywhere between 20 and 60 eggs, the size of ping pong balls. That’s quite a sizeable load to carry in her body! The babies hatch in 3 to 4 months and head right to water. Snapping turtles have temperature dependent sex determination (TDS). The sex of the turtle is actually determined by the temperature at which the egg was incubated. An even ratio of male to female means the eggs were incubated at a perfect 82 degrees F. Colder temperatures produce only males and warmer temperatures produce only females. The snapper we know today dates back 40 million years in the fossil record!
My husband wasn’t trying to hurt the snapper in this video. He was trying to get it to snap and show its claws.
FLORIDA BOX TURTLE – Terrapene carolina bauri
These turtles are found only in Florida and the keys. They sometimes reach southern Georgia. Their average size is 4″ to 6″. The one here was about 6″ so was probably quite old. These turtles like to lay in water but they rarely swim. They like forests and humid areas. Don’t know why they are often in our yard as there’s no standing water there. Perhaps because the ocean is only a block away. These turtles are often kept as pets, but Florida law says you can’t have more than two of them. Good thing I never saw more than two in the yard at the same time!
MUSKRAT – Ondatra zibethicus
This little creature can be problematic, because they burrow under the banks in ponds and streams, “undercutting” them, and eventually they’ll collapse. They also build their homes around dikes, causing them to collapse as well. They tend to live in large family units; a mother, father, and their young. Muskrats eat vegetation from creeks and shore, and sometimes a few small animals. They will eat grain crops as well, but in turn they are preyed upon by mink, foxes, coyotes, wolves, lynx, bears, eagles, snakes, large owls, and hawks. We have them in our pond and creek.
Please check out the rest of our “wild things,” including snakes, spiders, and other critters by clicking on the drop down menu at the top of this page, or here: SNAKES and SPIDERS!