How do coyotes remove cactus needles from their paws?

Here, in Arizona, coyotes roam and hunt in the desert.

While hiking with dogs, I often see spiny bits of Teddy bear cholla cactus on the ground.

Dogs often step on these and get stung by the needles. Trying to remove them from dog paws with hands usually results in hands getting pricked too. A pair of stones, sticks, or tweezers usually works. I imagine letting the dogs chew off the needles would result in having needles in their lips/mouth.

Q: What do coyotes do with stuck cactus needles? Do they remove them, if so how? Do coyotes and perhaps other desert animals have special adaptations for removing/avoiding cactus needles?

Mammal Guide

This guide initially displays all common mammals. Use the selectors below to view mammals of a particular shape, include rare mammals, or search for them by name.

Mammals are defined as warm-blooded vertebrates with hair or fur and sweat glands — in the females mammary glands, modified sweat glands, produce milk to nourish the young. Most mammals develop a placenta which enables the feeding of the fetus during gestation and give birth to live young. In addition, although most mammals walk on land, many have specific adaptations that allow them to swim, fly, leap between tree branches or even dig extensive tunnels. Many wild mammals are used for both food and fur. while other have been domesticated for their agricultural and scientific importance.

New Mexico ranks high for mammalian diversity in the states in the US and the Pajarito Plateau is home to many of these species. This guide describes all of the larger wildlife found in the area as well as the more common smaller animals with the most abundant being rodents. Local species range from carnivores like the mountain lion and bobcat to ruminants like elk and deer to to several varieties of bats.

Mammal References

Biota Information System of New Mexico
Bogen et al. 1998 Continued Studies of Bat Species of Concern in the Jemez Mountains, New Mexico [PDF]
Frey et al. 2006 Checklist of New Mexico Mammals [PDF]
New Mexico Tech Mammalian Field Guide
Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History North American Mammals
Threatened, Endangered and Sensitive Species Profile – Los Alamos Laboratory Lands [PDF]
Tyrell and Brack 1992 Survey for Bats in the Los Alamos National Environmental Research Park

Subject Area Experts (all guides)

Steve Cary (butterflies)
Beth Cortright (insects)
Terry Foxx (invasive plants)
Leslie Hansen (mammals)
Richard Hansen (fish, mammals)
Dorothy Hoard (butterflies, trees)
Chick Keller (flowers, herbarium)
Shari Kelley (geology)
Kirt Kempter (geology)
Garth Tietjen (reptiles)
David Yeamans (birds)

Web Development and Content Management

Pat Bacha
Jennifer Macke
Graham Mark
Akkana Peck


Please contact us for local nature questions and sightings. We welcome comments, corrections, and additions to our guides.

For more information about local nature, please visit our Nature Blog or subscribe to PEEC This Week.

Cactus Facts for Kids

  • There are about 2000 types of cacti
  • Cactus are xerophytes, specializing in hot, dry climates.
  • Cactus lifespan is somewhere in the ranges from 10 to 200 years
  • Many cacti live in dry places, such as deserts
  • A cactus plant can be very small or very big
  • The saguaro cactus is the largest cactus in the United States
  • The tallest saguaro cactus ever was over 78 feet tall
  • You will find lots of cacti in Arizona and California.
  • The spikes on the outside can be very sharp.
  • Some spikes can be even poisonous to humans.
  • Some cacti are edible especially from the 200+ Opuntia species
  • They are very good at conserving water, especially during long dry periods.
  • The outside of a cactus is a waxy skin texture that helps it hold in water.
  • Cactus flowers can be yellow, red, pink, white, orange, or blue.
  • Some cactus can be eaten and some grow fruit.
  • The vast majority of cacti have no visible leaves.
  • Scientists have discovered fossils of cacti dating back 25 million years.
  • The cactus can also be used for fodder for animals once the spines have been removed.
  • In some countries like India, they will use to cut this in herbal medicine.
  • Some cactus have been found in rainforests and even in countries like Canada.

Many tend to get worried about the safety of their pets due to the increase in number of domestic pets getting killed by coyotes. Here are some tips to prevent such a happening.

► Never leave your pet unsupervised when outside, especially at night.

► If coyote occurrences are frequent in your area, make sure to keep your pet indoors. This would mean even their feeding should be done indoors that is, the pet’s food and water.

► Make sure that the trash can covers are properly fitted, as garbage that is in the area may be inviting to a coyote. This may apply to even fruits that have fallen from the trees. That is, it is better to pick them and put them away for the same reason.

Considering the aforementioned points, it can be concluded that coyotes can eat almost anything within their reach or that is accessible to them.

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How Biomimicry Works

Submarines of the future speed through the water with the help of wiggling fish fins. Aircraft ascend through the clouds with flapping wings. In the desert, a climber steadily approa­ches the summit of a cliff, open palms effortlessly sticking to rock with the use of gecko-inspired nanotechnology. You've probably only encountered such nature-inspired future technologies in the imagined worlds of science fiction and comic books, but the design approach already exists. Inventors and engineers have been looking to nature for inspiration ever since prehistoric times.

Early humans learned hunting, shelter and survival techniques by observing animals as they interacted with their surroundings. While humans lacked the fierce claws and superior hunting instinct of bears, people could mimic their techniques. And as humans began to design ever-more complicated contraptions, they continued to look to nature's example. From Leonardo da Vinci's 15th-century sketches of flying machines to the Wright brothers' first successful prototype four centuries later, dreams of human flight centered on observing birds.

The world is full of amazing biological innovations, each one the product of millions of years of evolution. When designing technologies, it only makes sense to study the ways in which nature has already mastered the challenges involved. Today, we know this as biomimetics or biomimicry -- the practice of imitating models in nature to create better forms, processes, systems and strategies.

You encounter examples of biomimicry every day, perhaps without even realizing it. Velcro technology, for instance, was inspired by the way burred seed pouches cling to animal fur. Modern hypodermic needles take a few pointers from rattlesnake fangs. Nike has even ­applied the qualities of goat hoof traction to their running shoe designs.

In this article, we'll explore the ways in which biomimicry bridges the disciplines of biology and engineering, using the innovations of the natural world to improve technology and design.

Who would have thought sharks had so much to teach us? These sea creatures have inspired several biomimetic innovations. Shark skin consists of tiny, tooth-like scales that prevent small eddys and vortexes from forming (which slow them down). Speedo has replicated this effect with its Fastskin® body suits, which allow competitive swimmers to shave crucial seconds off their race times. Others have used this technology to create fast-traveling ship hulls that naturally deter the attachment of underwater organisms. Australia's BioPower Systems is working on a different shark-inspired innovation. The company hopes to anchor mechanical fins -- based on shark physiology -- in the middle of sea currents in order to generate hydroelectric power.

While the act of mimicking nature in human innovation has existed for ages, biomimicry came into its own as a prominent field of study and ethical stance in the late 20th century. American biologist Janine M. Benyus became a well-known leader of the movement in the late '90s with the publication of her book, "Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature." Since then, Benyus has gone on to found the Biomimicry Guild, an environmental consultation firm, and the Biomimicry Institute, a nonprofit advocacy group.

While development groups and researchers continue to be inspired by nature, Benyus pushes for a more comprehensive understanding of biomimicry in which nature is model, measure and mentor. Model refers to the basic principle of emulating nature in human design and measure stresses sustainability.

The natural world, as a system, is considered sustainable, in that its systems reuse and recycle resources in an efficient, continuous manner. In comparison, most of our technology and way of life is unsustainable. This means the required resources are regularly depleted or permanently damaged. Benyus argues that a truly biomimetic approach to a problem should involve nature's sustainability.

Nature as mentor stresses a new way of viewing our environment -- breaking away from the industrialized view of the world as a collection of resources available for plundering. Benyus insists that any serious biomimetic project should do more than imitate the design and efficiency of nature. She says designers should follow environmental ethics. For instance, a solar-powered vehicle patterned after the movement of a sand crab might be an amazing invention. However, she says the product loses all of its biomimetic credibility if its primary use is to cut down rainforests or serve as a weapons' platform.

Benyus stresses nine laws of nature in her writings. She argues that each property should be of vital consideration to any truly biomimetic design.

  • Nature runs on sunlight
  • Nature uses only the energy it needs
  • Energy fits form to function
  • Energy recycles everything
  • Nature rewards cooperation
  • Nature banks on diversity
  • Nature demands local expertise
  • Nature curbs excess from within
  • Nature taps the power of limits

Biomimicry, as an innovating process, generally comes from one of two directions. Sometimes, the innovator sees a process in nature and connects it to an existing technology or problem. Other times, the innovator studies an existing design problem and turns to nature for help. This is where biomimicry serves as a bridge between biology and engineering.

The first step of solving a problem through biomimicry is to translate what you need out of a design into biological terms. For instance, what if you wanted to design a fire extinguisher with a longer range? Where in nature have organisms evolved to deal with a similar problem? Bombardier beetles might not deal with quenching a flaming stovetop, but they have evolved to squirt a heated, explosive stream of venom at predators.

Once discovered, the next challenge is to take the lesson from nature and apply it back to your design. In the case of the bombardier beetle, researchers studied the insect's use of a high-pressure "combustion chamber" in its abdomen. Designers have begun applying this discovery to existing spray technology.

You can find biomimicry in a number of different fields. Whatever the design challenge, there's a good chance a species on Earth has tackled a similar problem already. Consider these examples:

Human need: Builders want a cheaper means of cooling large buildings.

Nature's example: Certain African termite mounds must maintain a constant temperature of 87 degrees Celsius (189 degrees Fahrenheit) in order for the fungus crop to survive. To achieve this, they construct air vents that constantly move air throughout the mound, cooling or heating it to the same temperature as the mound itself.

Biomimetic solution: Architects and engineers are building several large office complexes that mimic the termite approach to temperature control.

Human need: Auto manufacturers want to develop an anti-collision system.

Nature's example: Locusts avoid running into each other in swarms by using highly evolved eyes that allow these insects to see in several directions simultaneously.

Biomimetic solution: Automobile designers mimicked the locusts' vision when developing sensors that detect movement directly surrounding a car and warn drivers of impending crashes.

Human need: Chemical companies want a self-cleaning coat of paint.

Nature's example: Lotus plants must keep the surfaces of their leaves clean, despite living in muddy ponds and swamps. The leaves' tiny ridges and bumps keep water droplets from spreading across the surface. As a result, the water beads and slides away, carrying particles of dirt with it.

Biomimetic solution: Developers have applied this lotus effect to paint. When the paint dries, tiny bumps remain on the surface that help water droplets remove dirt.

Human need: Health workers want a way to store vaccines without refrigeration.

Nature's example: The African resurrection plant completely dries out during yearly droughts and then revives itself when the rains returns. The plants contain a polyphenol that protects against cell membrane damage during dehydration.

Biomimetic solution: Researchers are seeking a way to use these sugars to preserve living vaccines through dehydration.

All over the world, researchers are looking to nature for answers to their various design challenges. By studying how evolution overcomes challenges, biomimicry may one day help us solve problems ranging from soap scum to global sustainability issues.

How do coyotes remove cactus needles from their paws? - Biology

Identifying Features

The saguaro cactus (Carnegiea gigantea) is one of the defining plants of the Sonoran Desert. These plants are large, tree-like columnar cacti that develop branches (or arms) as they age, although some never grow arms. These arms generally bend upward and can number over 25. Saguaros are covered with protective spines, white flowers in the late spring, and red fruit in summer.


Saguaros are found exclusively in the Sonoran Desert. The most important factors for growth are water and temperature. If the elevation is too high, the cold weather and frost can kill the saguaro. Although the the Sonoran Desert experiences both winter and summer rains, it is thought that the Saguaro obtains most of its moisture during the summer rainy season.


You find this cactus in southern Arizona and western Sonora, Mexico. At the northern portion of their range they are more plentiful on the warmer south facing slopes. A few stray plants can also be found in southeast California.

Wild Status

The saguaro is not currently listed as threatened or endangered. Arizona has strict regulations about the harvesting, collection or destruction of this species.

Life Span

With the right growing conditions, it is estimated that saguaros can live to be as much as 150-200 years old.

Saguaro are very slow growing cactus. A 10 year old plant might only be 1.5 inches tall. Saguaro can grow to be between 40-60 feet tall (12-18m). When rain is plentiful and the saguaro is fully hydrated it can weigh between 3200-4800 pounds.

Quick Facts

The saguaro is the largest cactus in the United States.

Most of the saguaros roots are only 4-6 inches deep and radiate out as far from the plant as it is tall. There is one deep root, or tap root that extends down into the ground more than 2 feet.

After the saguaro dies its woody ribs can be used to build roofs, fences, and parts of furniture. The holes that birds nested in or "saguaro boots" can be found among the dead saguaros. Native Americans used these as water containers long before the canteen was available.

Animal Diversity Web

Gopherus polyphemus is found only in the southeastern United States. Its range extends through the Coastal Plain, from the southern tip of South Carolina through a small area at the extreme eastern end of Louisiana (Diemer 1986). The majority of the range of G. polyphemus is located in Florida. Small portions of southern Alabama, Mississippi, and Georgia are also part of the range (Conant and Collins 1998). (Conant and Collins, 1998 Diemer, 1986 Ernst and Lovich, 2009)


Gopher tortoises are terrestrial tortoises and can be found in habitats with dry, sandy soils, a thin tree canopy, and plenty of low growing vegetation. Some common Gopher tortoise habitats include scrub, coastal dunes, sandhill, pine and scrubby flatwoods, prairie, pine-mixed hardwoods, and xeric hammock. Periodic burning is an essential component of Gopher tortoise habitat, as it inhibits the growth of tall, dense vegetation that prevents the growth of low growing plants that make up the tortoises’ diet. Within these habitats, G. polyphemus builds underground burrows. These burrows average 4.5 meters in length and 2 meters deep. These burrows, which maintain a steady temperature and humidity throughout the year, provide gopher tortoise with protection from fires, extreme temperatures, drought, and predators. ("Gopher Tortoise: Gopherus polyphemus", 2013 "USGS Digital Elevation Maps", 2013 Ernst and Lovich, 2009)

  • Habitat Regions
  • temperate
  • terrestrial
  • Terrestrial Biomes
  • desert or dune
  • savanna or grassland
  • forest
  • scrub forest
  • Other Habitat Features
  • suburban
  • Range elevation 0 to 200 m 0.00 to 656.17 ft

Physical Description

Gopher tortoises are moderately sized tortoises, averaging between 23 and 28 cm in carapace length as an adult, with a maximum length of about 38.7 cm. The average mass is 5500 grams (AnAge entry for ≪Gopherus polyphemus≫ 2012). They are easily identified by their unwebbed, flattened and stump-like hind feet, and forelimbs that are shovel-like and adapted for digging. The carapace of ≪G. polyphemus≫ is oblong and usually brown, tan, or gray in color (Gopher Tortoise Management Plan 2012). The plastron, which is unhinged, is a dull yellow and pale brown color. The carapace of younger tortoises has visible growth rings, which can be used to estimate age. In older individuals, the carapace is worn quite smooth. Hatchling gopher tortoises have yellow-centered carapace scutes, which are bordered by brown. The plastron and marginal scutes are yellow or orange (Conant and Collins 1998).

At sexual maturity, males and females are of similar size and appearance, though the female's shell dimensions may average somewhat larger. To differentiate between sexes, the most reliable characteristic is the concavity of the male's plastron the female plastron is flatter. Males also have larger mental glands (on the chin) and longer gular projections on the front of the plastron (Mushinsky et al. 1994). ("AnAge entry for Gopherus polyphemus", 2012 "Gopher Tortoise Management Plan", 2012 Conant and Collins, 1998 Ernst and Lovich, 2009 Mushinsky, et al., 1994)

  • Other Physical Features
  • ectothermic
  • heterothermic
  • bilateral symmetry
  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • sexes alike
  • female larger
  • sexes shaped differently
  • Average mass 5500 g 193.83 oz
  • Average mass 5500 g 193.83 oz AnAge
  • Range length 23 to 38.7 cm 9.06 to 15.24 in
  • Average length 25.4 cm 10.00 in
  • Average basal metabolic rate 0.579 W AnAge


Gopher tortoise eggs are fertilized internally and a single clutch is laid by a female each season. On average, a clutch has six eggs, though clutch size ranges from five to nine eggs. Incubation period ranges from 80 to 100 days, and depends on the latitude (and temperature trends) at which a nest is located. Nests located further south tend to have shorter incubation periods (Gopher Tortoise Management Plan, 2012). Gopher tortoises exhibit temperature dependent sex determination and have an unusually low pivotal temperature of about 29 degrees C (Burke et al. 1996). Nest and hatchling predation is very high. Those juvenile gopher tortoises that survive reach sexual maturity slowly, with female gopher tortoises reaching sexual maturity between 9 and 21 years. Male gopher tortoises may reach sexual maturity slightly earlier than females (Gopher Tortoise Management Plan, 2012). ("Gopher Tortoise Management Plan", 2012 Burke, et al., 1996 Ernst and Lovich, 2009)


Very little is known about how gopher tortoises find mates in the wild. Auffenberg (1966) described a courtship ritual used to attract mates in G. polyphemus . The ritual begins with the male walking in circles and bobbing his head. The female tortoise will approach the male, which results in the male bobbing his head more vigorously. Once the female has approached, the male will bite at her legs and shell, and particularly the gular projection. The female will walk backwards in a semi-circle and stretch her hind legs. This is followed by the male’s first attempt at mounting, which is usually unsuccessful and followed by more biting. The female begins to walk in a progressively tighter semi-circle. The male will then successfully mount the female and copulation follows. Odors from mental gland secretions may also stimulate mating readiness.

There is little evidence to suggest male gopher tortoises directly defend their mates. Rather, individuals do defend territories, which often overlap both within and between sexes. Some forms of territorial defense, which are seen more often in the breeding season, include ramming and charging. Territory defense may play a role in mate defense (Innes 2009).

In general, G. polyphemus can be considered a promiscuous breeder, which means both males and females mate with multiple partners. Promiscuity seems to be more prevalent when females are smaller. Evidence shows that larger females tend to have clutches fertilized by a single male smaller females are more likely to have clutches fertilized by multiple males. For this reason, it may be appropriate to consider populations with larger females to be polygynous breeders rather than promiscuous (Moon et al. 2006). (Auffenberg, 1966 Ernst and Lovich, 2009 Innes, 2009 Moon, et al., 2006)

Breeding occurs from March through December (Gopher Tortoise Management Plan 2012). Females typically begin reproducing between ages 9 and 21. Males usually begin reproducing between ages 9 and 18. A female can produce one clutch per year, though an individual may not necessarily lay a clutch each year. Average clutch size is 6 eggs, but clutch size ranges from 5 to 8 eggs. Once a clutch is laid, no further parental care is given from either the female or male. Depending on the latitude at which a nest is located, it takes 80 to 100 days for hatching to occur. As noted previously, hatching occurs in less time in warmer habitats (Innes 2009).

Gopher tortoises have temperature dependent sex determination. At average incubation temperatures of 26 degrees C, 100% males are produced at 29 degrees C, 75% will be males, and only females are produced at 32 degrees C. After hatching, the neonates take approximately 2 days to absorb the yolk sac. When they begin to forage, they are classified as hatchlings. Once the tortoises are subadults, the shell becomes hardened. Adults are considered sexually mature when they can easily be classified as male and female and demonstrate defensive and mating behaviors (Innes 2009). ("Gopher Tortoise Management Plan", 2012 "Gopher Tortoise: Gopherus polyphemus", 2013 Ernst and Lovich, 2009 Innes, 2009)

  • Key Reproductive Features
  • iteroparous
  • seasonal breeding
  • gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate)
  • sexual
  • oviparous
  • sperm-storing
  • Breeding interval Gopher tortoises breed once per year.
  • Breeding season Breeding season is from March through December.
  • Range number of offspring 5 to 9
  • Average number of offspring 6
  • Average number of offspring 8 AnAge
  • Range gestation period 80 to 110 days
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female) 9 to 21 years
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male) 9 to 18 years

Gopher tortoises exhibit no parental care other than a careful excavation and covering of the nest. After mating, a female gopher tortoise will dig a nest in which to lay her eggs. The nest may be located in close proximity to her burrow (often in the "apron" of cleared sand around the burrow entrance), unless the habitat is not an adequate nesting site (Innes 2009). After laying and covering the eggs, there is no evidence suggesting any parental care. Within a few weeks of eggs being laid, up to 87% of nests may be predated upon, according to one study. It is estimated that a female gopher tortoise may only have a successful clutch of eggs every ten years (Diemer 1986). ("Gopher Tortoise Management Plan", 2012 Diemer, 1986 Ernst and Lovich, 2009 Innes, 2009)

  • Parental Investment
  • no parental involvement
  • pre-fertilization
    • provisioning
    • protecting
      • female
      • provisioning
        • female


        In the wild, gopher tortoises have an expected lifespan of 50 to 70 years. However, they can be difficult to age as their carapaces become smoother and growth rings are no longer visible due to wear. Captive gopher tortoises may live to at least 86 years of age (Innes 2009). ("Gopher Tortoise: Gopherus polyphemus", 2013 Ernst and Lovich, 2009 Innes, 2009)

        • Range lifespan
          Status: wild 40 to 70 years
        • Range lifespan
          Status: captivity 86 (high) years
        • Typical lifespan
          Status: wild 40 to 70 years
        • Average lifespan
          Status: captivity 8.5 years Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research


        Gopher tortoises are ectotherms, dependent on the sun for obtaining warmth needed for daily and seasonal activity. These tortoises are active throughout the year with peak activity levels from April to June and September to October. Gopher tortoises are most active during the day, making them diurnal (Innes 2009). They become dormant in winter, when temperatures are insufficient for normal activity for many weeks. Gopher tortoises can spend up to 80% of their time inside a burrow. Under appropriate environmental conditions they leave the burrow to bask and forage. Typically, temperatures below 21 °C and above 32 °C will cause them to remain in burrow.s Similarly, very high or low humidity may limit the activity level of gopher tortoises (Innes 2009). ("Gopher Tortoise Management Plan", 2012 Ernst and Lovich, 2009 Innes, 2009)

        • Key Behaviors
        • terricolous
        • fossorial
        • diurnal
        • crepuscular
        • motile
        • sedentary
        • solitary
        • territorial
        • Range territory size 4047 to 32375 m^2

        Home Range

        Home ranges of gopher tortoises can vary in size from as little as 0.1 acres up to 8 acres (Innes 2009). The size of home ranges is determined by sex, habitat type, forage quantity and quality, and season, though there is also variation between individuals. On average, male home ranges are between 1.2 and 4.7 acres. Female home ranges, on average, are between 0.2 and 1.6 acres. Within these territories, individual gopher tortoises will often have multiple burrows (Gopher Tortoise Management Plan 2012). Home ranges are considered well defined, though the edges of individuals’ homes ranges tend to overlap. Older and larger tortoises tend to have larger territories than younger, smaller ones. Territories of females are frequently smaller than those of males, who tend to travel farther, presumably in search of potential mates. Increased habitat quality tends to result in predictably smaller home ranges, as individuals do not need to travel as far to find suitable food (Innes 2009). ("Gopher Tortoise Management Plan", 2012 Auffenberg, 1966 Ernst and Lovich, 2009 Innes, 2009)

        Communication and Perception

        There is little information available on communication and perception in gopher tortoises. As solitary animals, gopher tortoises appear to communicate very little with other individuals except during mating activity (Innes 2009). During mating rituals, males and females communicate visually (such as head bobbing by the male) and through touch, including biting (Auffenberg 1966), and quite possibly also through odor (pheromones). Both sexes have enlarged mental (chin) glands (larger in males, and swollen during the breeding season) and an enlarged scale on each forefoot. The tortoise may rub this scale on the chin gland and present it towards a potential mate. The communication use of vocalizations or subaudible sounds in this species may occur, but is presently poorly understood. ("Gopher Tortoise Management Plan", 2012 Auffenberg, 1966 Ernst and Lovich, 2009 Innes, 2009)

        • Communication Channels
        • visual
        • tactile
        • chemical
        • Other Communication Modes
        • pheromones
        • Perception Channels
        • visual
        • tactile
        • acoustic
        • chemical

        Food Habits

        Gopher tortoises are primarily herbivorous and has been known to feed on up to 400 different plant species. Many of these species are herbaceous, low growing plants including wire grass, blackberries, prickly pear cactus, legumes, and paw paw (Gopher Tortoise Management Plan 2012). These plants provide some of the water that gopher tortoises require however, they will also drink water when available (Innes 2009). Approximately 70 to 80 percent of a gopher tortoise’s diet comes from grasses. However, other plant parts, including shoots, stems, fruits, flowers, leaves, and pine needles are also eaten. A very small portion of the tortoises’ diet is composed of fungi, lichens, carrion, bone, insects, and feces. These food sources seem to be more commonly eaten by females before and after nesting time (Innes 2009). ("Gopher Tortoise Management Plan", 2012 "Gopher Tortoise: Gopherus polyphemus", 2013 Ernst and Lovich, 2009 Innes, 2009)

        • Primary Diet
        • herbivore
          • folivore
          • Animal Foods
          • carrion
          • insects
          • terrestrial worms
          • Plant Foods
          • leaves
          • roots and tubers
          • wood, bark, or stems
          • fruit
          • flowers
          • bryophytes
          • lichens
          • Other Foods
          • fungus
          • dung


          Gopher tortoises are killed and eaten by a large number of predators eggs and hatchlings are the most vulnerable life stages, but larger tortoises are not invulnerable to predation. Predators on eggs and young include, but are not limited to, raccoons, coyotes, bobcats, wild boar, skunks, hawks, bald eagles, and a number of snake species. Fire ants destroy many eggs and young tortoises. Adult gopher tortoises are less vulnerable to predation however, they are sometimes killed by coyotes, bobcats, and domestic cats and dogs (Innes 2009). Humans, especially in the panhandle of Florida, are known to kill Gopher tortoises, largely for food though this practice is not as common as it was prior to the 1980's, it still occurs in some rural areas (Gopher Tortoise Management Plan 2012). The best strategy gopher tortoises have against predation is remaining underground in a burrow, where larger animals cannot reach them. However, nine-banded armadillos may sometimes indirectly cause mortality by trapping them in caved-in burrows as they dig their own dens (Innes 2009). ("Gopher Tortoise Management Plan", 2012 Ernst and Lovich, 2009 Innes, 2009)

          • Anti-predator Adaptations
          • cryptic
          • Known Predators
            • Virginia opossums (Didelphis virginiana)
            • raccoons (Procyon lotor)
            • striped skunks (Mephitis mephitis)
            • spotted skunks (Spilogale putorius)
            • gray foxes (Urocyon cinereoargenteus)
            • coyotes (Canis latrans)
            • bobcats (Lynx rufus)
            • domestic dogs ( Canis familiaris )
            • domestic cats ( Felix catus )
            • wild boars (Sus scrofa)
            • nine-banded armadillos (Dasypus novemcinctus)
            • Florida black bears ( Ursus americanus floridanus )
            • red-tailed hawks (Buteo jamaicensis)
            • red-shouldered hawks (Buteo lineatus)
            • bald eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)
            • blue jays (Cyanocitta cristata)
            • American crows (Corvus brachyrhynchos)
            • eastern diamondback rattlesnakes (Crotalus adamanteus)
            • eastern indigo snakes (Drymarchon couperi)
            • coachwhips (Masticophis flagellum)
            • racers (Coluber constrictor)
            • common kingsnakes ( Lampropeltis getulus )
            • Florida cottonmouths ( Agkistrodon piscivorous conanti )
            • native fire ants ( g. Conomyrma )
            • non-native fire ants ( g. Solenopsis )
            • humans (Homo sapiens)

            Ecosystem Roles

            Gopher tortoises are vital to their communities and are considered a keystone species. Over 350 species, including 60 vertebrates and 302 invertebrates, have been shown to use gopher tortoise burrows. Gopher tortoise burrows provide a stable, protective habitat for these symbiotic species, many of which are considered to be mutualists (Gopher Tortoise Management Plan 2012). Population sizes of some mutualist species are directly correlated with the size of gopher tortoise populations. For example, the decline of the gopher tortoises led to the decline of eastern indigo snakes, ≪Drymarchon couperi≫, which is listed as Threatened under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. Additionally, some of the species that benefit from gopher tortoise burrows also benefit the gopher tortoises. Little gopher tortoise scarab beetles, ≪Alloblackburneus troglodytes≫, live in gopher tortoise burrows and eat tortoise feces (Gopher Tortoise Management Plan 2012). Gopher tortoise presence allows for higher biodiversity. The 362 species associated with gopher tortoise burrows includes mice, rabbits, opossums, snakes, frogs, burrowing owls, and insects (Gopher Tortoise Management Plan 2012). ("Gopher Tortoise Management Plan", 2012 "Gopher Tortoise: Gopherus polyphemus", 2013 Ernst and Lovich, 2009)

            • gopher frogs (Lithobates capito)
            • Florida mice (Podomys floridanus)
            • Florida pine snakes ( Pituophis melanoleucus mugitus )
            • eastern indigo snakes (Drymarchon couperi)
            • eastern diamondback rattlesnakes (Crotalus adamanteus)
            • Gopher tortoise acrolophus moths (Acrolophus pholeter)

            Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

            Gopher tortoises help maintain diverse natural communities. Most people enjoy seeing tortoises, and they may be considered a tourist attraction. They were sometimes collected for the pet trade, though in Florida it is now illegal to possess or sell a gopher tortoise without a proper license. In the past, in northern Florida, rural communities captured gopher tortoises and used them as a source of food (Gopher Tortoise Management Plan 2012 Innes 2009). ("Gopher Tortoise Management Plan", 2012 Ernst and Lovich, 2009 Innes, 2009)

            Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

            Gopher tortoises are found in habitats often desired for development. Due to their protected status, land developers are required to obtain permits before developing land where gopher tortoises are present. Sometimes, gopher tortoises may be relocated. At other times, however, the land is protected from development. A delay in development, or lack of development in protected habitats, may thus have a small negative economic impact on humans (Gopher Tortoise Management Plan 2012). ("Gopher Tortoise Management Plan", 2012 Ernst and Lovich, 2009)

            Conservation Status

            Gopher tortoises are listed as "Vulnerable" by the IUCN Redlist and "Threatened" by the US Fish and Wildlife Service. They receive varying levels of protection from states where they occur. The leading cause of decreasing numbers of gopher tortoises is habitat loss and degradation. Habitat degradation and fragmentation are due to practices such as urbanization, agriculture, and the mining of phosphates. Many tortoises are killed on roads. To help protect the species, some critical habitat is being managed and protected by state wildlife agencies from development and destruction (Gopher Tortoise Management Plan 2012). ("Gopher Tortoise Management Plan", 2012 Ernst and Lovich, 2009)

            • IUCN Red List Vulnerable
              More information
            • IUCN Red List Vulnerable
              More information
            • US Federal ListThreatened
            • CITES Appendix II
            • State of Michigan List No special status

            Other Comments

            Fossils of gopher tortoises are known from Pliocene and Pleistocene deposits throughout the present range of the species, but fossils that likely belong to this species have been found in Texas and Kansas, suggesting a larger range in the past. (Auffenberg and Franz, 1978 Ernst and Lovich, 2009)


            Andrea Lazzari (author), Michigan State University, James Harding (editor), Michigan State University, Tanya Dewey (editor), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.


            living in the Nearctic biogeographic province, the northern part of the New World. This includes Greenland, the Canadian Arctic islands, and all of the North American as far south as the highlands of central Mexico.

            uses sound to communicate

            having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.

            uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

            having markings, coloration, shapes, or other features that cause an animal to be camouflaged in its natural environment being difficult to see or otherwise detect.

            in deserts low (less than 30 cm per year) and unpredictable rainfall results in landscapes dominated by plants and animals adapted to aridity. Vegetation is typically sparse, though spectacular blooms may occur following rain. Deserts can be cold or warm and daily temperates typically fluctuate. In dune areas vegetation is also sparse and conditions are dry. This is because sand does not hold water well so little is available to plants. In dunes near seas and oceans this is compounded by the influence of salt in the air and soil. Salt limits the ability of plants to take up water through their roots.

            humans benefit economically by promoting tourism that focuses on the appreciation of natural areas or animals. Ecotourism implies that there are existing programs that profit from the appreciation of natural areas or animals.

            animals which must use heat acquired from the environment and behavioral adaptations to regulate body temperature

            an animal that mainly eats leaves.

            A substance that provides both nutrients and energy to a living thing.

            forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.

            Referring to a burrowing life-style or behavior, specialized for digging or burrowing.

            An animal that eats mainly plants or parts of plants.

            having a body temperature that fluctuates with that of the immediate environment having no mechanism or a poorly developed mechanism for regulating internal body temperature.

            offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).

            a species whose presence or absence strongly affects populations of other species in that area such that the extirpation of the keystone species in an area will result in the ultimate extirpation of many more species in that area (Example: sea otter).

            having the capacity to move from one place to another.

            the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.

            reproduction in which eggs are released by the female development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.

            the business of buying and selling animals for people to keep in their homes as pets.

            chemicals released into air or water that are detected by and responded to by other animals of the same species

            the kind of polygamy in which a female pairs with several males, each of which also pairs with several different females.

            having more than one female as a mate at one time

            scrub forests develop in areas that experience dry seasons.

            breeding is confined to a particular season

            reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female

            digs and breaks up soil so air and water can get in

            mature spermatozoa are stored by females following copulation. Male sperm storage also occurs, as sperm are retained in the male epididymes (in mammals) for a period that can, in some cases, extend over several weeks or more, but here we use the term to refer only to sperm storage by females.

            living in residential areas on the outskirts of large cities or towns.

            uses touch to communicate

            that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).

            defends an area within the home range, occupied by a single animals or group of animals of the same species and held through overt defense, display, or advertisement

            The term is used in the 1994 IUCN Red List of Threatened Animals to refer collectively to species categorized as Endangered (E), Vulnerable (V), Rare (R), Indeterminate (I), or Insufficiently Known (K) and in the 1996 IUCN Red List of Threatened Animals to refer collectively to species categorized as Critically Endangered (CR), Endangered (EN), or Vulnerable (VU).

            A terrestrial biome. Savannas are grasslands with scattered individual trees that do not form a closed canopy. Extensive savannas are found in parts of subtropical and tropical Africa and South America, and in Australia.

            A grassland with scattered trees or scattered clumps of trees, a type of community intermediate between grassland and forest. See also Tropical savanna and grassland biome.

            A terrestrial biome found in temperate latitudes (>23.5° N or S latitude). Vegetation is made up mostly of grasses, the height and species diversity of which depend largely on the amount of moisture available. Fire and grazing are important in the long-term maintenance of grasslands.

            uses sight to communicate


            2012. "AnAge entry for Gopherus polyphemus" (On-line). AnAge: The Animal Ageing and Longevity Database. Accessed December 01, 2013 at

            Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Gopher Tortoise Management Plan. 2. Tallahassee, FL: Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. 2012. Accessed December 01, 2013 at

            2013. "Gopher Tortoise: Gopherus polyphemus" (On-line). Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Accessed November 29, 2013 at

            2013. "USGS Digital Elevation Maps" (On-line). Accessed December 01, 2013 at

            Auffenberg, W., R. Franz. 1978. Gopherus polyphemus . Cat. Am. Amphib. Rept. , 215: "1-2".

            Auffenberg, W. 1966. On the Courtship of Gopherus polyphemus. Herpetologica , 22: 113-117.

            Burke, R., M. Ewert, J. McLemore, D. Jackson. 1996. Temperature-Dependent Sex Determination and Hatching Success in the Gopher Tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus). Chelonian Conservation and Biology , 2: 86-88. Accessed December 01, 2013 at

            Conant, R., J. Collins. 1998. Reptiles and Amphibians of Eastern/Central North America . New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin.

            Diemer, J. 1986. The Ecology and Management of the Gopher Tortoise in the Southeastern United States. Herpetologica , 42: 125-133.

            Ernst, C., J. Lovich. 2009. Turtles of the United States and Canada . Baltimore, Maryland: John Hopkins Univeresity Press.

            Innes, R. 2009. "Gopherus polyphemus" (On-line). USDA Forest Service: Fire Effects Information System. Accessed December 02, 2013 at

            Moon, J., E. McCoy, H. Mushinksy, S. Karl. 2006. Multiple Paternity and Breeding System in the Gopher Tortoise, Gopherus polyphemus. Journal of Heredity , 97: 150-157. Accessed December 06, 2013 at

            Mushinsky, H., D. Wilson, E. McCoy. 1994. Growth and Sexual Dimorphism of Gopherus polyphemus in Central Florida. Herpetologica , 50: 119-128.


            Structures, Properties, And Functions Of The Stings Of Honey Bees
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            Best Practices: A step-by-step guide

            Step three: Do it (tools and techniques)

            With your overall problem-solving strategy in mind, now it’s time to choose the techniques that will help you accomplish your goals. If you decided to do nothing, well then—you’re done. If you’d like to make the environment less attractive to the nuisance animal, you’ll find more suggestions listed in the species accounts in Appendices B and C. This manual won’t go into any more detail about methods used to reduce local wildlife populations, but you can learn more about that from some of the resources listed in Appendix E. In this section, we’ll explain some of the best practices for repelling, removing, excluding, and killing animals.

            Avoid creating wildlife orphans

            Foxes often calm down once they’re restrained with a catchpole. Since this healthy fox had accidentally wandered in, it was released on site.
            Before you repel, remove, exclude, or kill an animal, take steps to prevent the orphaning of young wildlife. A lot of NWCO work happens when wildlife are raising their young, so this is an important consideration. Sounds pretty reasonable. How do you do it?

            Unfortunately, this is another hotly debated topic that hasn’t been well-studied. For raccoons and squirrels, there’s some anecdotal information tracking the number of times a female will retrieve her young when certain removal techniques are used, but to our knowledge, no one has followed that all the way through to find out what happens later. How often does the female find a suitable den site in time? How easily does the family recover from the stress of the experience? Do a reasonable number of the young survive to adulthood?

            Many people assume that den and nesting sites are plentiful and that females usually have several “up their sleeves.” Perhaps this is true for some species, in some areas. It’s certainly not true in all places.

            The best way to prevent orphaning is to convince your customers to wait until the young are mobile before removing, repelling, or excluding the family from the site. If that’s unacceptable, you can try to capture and remove both the female and all of her young and hope that she will retrieve them and continue to care for them.

            When is this most likely to work? Let’s apply a little biological common sense. Older, more experienced females are probably better at finding resources than younger females. As the young age, they bond more closely with their mother, so she’d be less likely to abandon them. You can’t change the ages of the animals you’re dealing with, but if you think your chances of success are poor, you might choose a different option.

            Some NWCOs are trying to refine removal techniques to increase the chances that the female will retrieve her young. Here are their suggestions.

            • Time your activities to match the normal habits of that species. The sooner the female finds the young, the better. If they’re left alone too long, they may die of exposure. For a nocturnal species, start at dusk.
            • Remove the female, preferably using a direct capture technique such as a catchpole (described later).
            • Place the female and young in a release box. (We’ll describe several variations on this theme.) Many NWCOs use a simple cardboard box, others use a wooden nest box, such as a wood duck box, and some prefer plastic boxes.
            • Match the size of the box and its entrance hole to the size of the species, using a smaller box with a smaller hole for squirrels, and a larger box with at least a 7″ hole for raccoons. (One NWCO recommends a 2 × 2 × 1 ft. box.)
            • Make sure the animal cannot immediately get out of the box by covering the hole. Then move them to a quiet place outdoors. Unless they’re likely to be disturbed, keep the box at ground level. Remove the cover so the female can get out of the box. Another option is to build a box with a sliding door. Leave the door open about an inch, to keep the heat inside but make it easy for the female to slide it fully open so she can retrieve her young.
            • Some NWCOs prefer to use heated release boxes when it’s cold outside. Make sure that the box doesn’t get too hot. You may want to provide heat in just one area. Also, assume that if you put something in the box, they will chew on it. Don’t give them access to anything that they shouldn’t eat, such as wires. That means that if you choose to use a household heating pad as the heat source, make sure the animals can’t reach the wires. To avoid that problem, one NWCO builds his boxes with a double floor, placing the heating pad in the space between the floors. Other options for heat sources include microwaveable heating pads and warm soapstones.
            • If you can’t catch the female, put the young in the release box and locate it as close to the entry site as possible.

            Learn the typical birthing and rearing seasons of the species you handle. Know how to tell when a female is nursing and what young sound like.
            How will you evict the animals? The next section is an overview of the common techniques available to NWCOs.

            Nonlethal techniques: Direct capture

            Sometimes, you may be able to capture the animal immediately, using your hands or a simple device, such as a catchpole. If you can do so safely, this is often appealing to the customer. It may also eliminate the need for repeated visits to the site. Remember all of the safety tips from chapter four. The right gloves are especially important if you’re going to try to catch an animal by hand.

            Other useful devices include: catchpole combo | buckets | nets | drugs

            Catchpole, or “snare pole” (similar to snake tongs, cat grasper). This is one of the most versatile tools used to capture and restrain animals. Basically, a catchpole is a long stick with a noose (cabled loop) on one end. For most species, place the loop over the animal’s head and then tighten the cable to hold the animal. Bobcats and housecats can accidentally suffocate if the loop is only placed around their necks—it’s better to place the loop over the cat’s head and over one front leg. Minimize the amount of time an animal spends in this restraint.

            Some catchpoles swivel, allowing the animal to twist without being suffocated. Commercial catchpoles often lock once you’ve pulled the cable tight, and also have a quick-release. (If you prefer to make your own, run a loop of plastic-coated cable through a piece of rigid aluminum pipe or conduit that’s 3–4 feet long. You may still want to add a quick-release mechanism.)

            Related hand-operated devices may substitute a vice-grip closure for the noose on the end of the catchpole. Imagine the kind of pincer that some people use to grab cans off a high cabinet. This can be useful if you’re trying to capture a small animal, such as a squirrel, or if you can only reach a part of the animal and would not be able to get a loop around it. Poles with this vise-grip closure usually don’t have the restraining power of catchpoles.

            Modified catchpoles are available for restraining snakes. They’re often called snake “sticks,” “tongs,” or “hooks.” These devices pin the snake’s head to the ground. Use them carefully, because it’s hard to tell how much pressure you’re exerting so you could accidentally injure the snake’s spine or even dislocate its head. Once the snake’s head is restrained, grasp the snake just behind its jaws with your thumb and forefingers. This will give you control of its head. Support the snake’s body (with your arm, a stick, or a pole) when you carry it. This will minimize its stress and prevent it from thrashing about.

            What if you’re confronted with a large nonvenomous snake, such as a boa constrictor, that’s tightly wrapped around a person? If you can’t work it loose with your hands, remember that snakes don’t like cold temperatures. So have the person step into a cool shower. The snake will probably let go once the water hits it, and try to slither away.

            Obviously, inexperienced people should not handle venomous snakes! NWCOs with the proper snake-handling training should still take a few precautions when working with venomous snakes.

            Don’t work alone. If you must, at least tell someone what you’re doing. Call the local hospital before you go out on the job, to see if they have the proper antivenin—and have them check that it’s still good (they probably don’t use it often, so it could be outdated). Bring along a garbage can with a lid, or a cage that you can put the snake in once you’ve captured it. One final tip: of the three species of venomous snakes native to New York, two are legally protected (timber rattlesnake, eastern massasauga) and may not be handled without special state permits.

            A “catchpole combo.” Many NWCOs are talented tinkerers. In this case, one person combined simple tools for a unique direct capture technique used to remove a raccoon from a fireplace chimney in one visit. This method requires a catchpole, a chimney brush attached to flexible fiberglass chimney rods, a ladder, and gloves.

            Make sure the damper is securely closed. Climb onto the roof. Run the chimney brush (attached to flexible fiberglass chimney rods) down the chimney. When the brush enters the smoke chamber and drops to the damper, it opens up an escape route for the raccoon. As the coon climbs up into the flue, pull the brush up behind it to encourage the coon to move up the chimney. (The faster the brush is pulled up, the less likely the animal will try to force its way down past the brush.)

            When the raccoon is four or five feet from the top of the chimney, use the catchpole to capture it and transfer it to a holding cage (usually a cage trap). Then, if there are young in the chimney, go inside the house. Open the damper and remove them with your gloved hands.

            Buckets or small plastic containers. This works well with bats and small snakes. Cover the animal with the container, and then slip a piece of stiff cardboard between the container and the wall or floor. You can then carry the animal outside and release it (remember: don’t release bats if there was a possible rabies exposure).

            Nets. Two designs are the throw net and “hoop” net. Throw nets are tossed over the target animal. Hoop nets are attached to the end of a long handle. They’re used to scoop up the animal. The net should be deep enough to allow the hoop to be twisted to restrain the animal in the bottom of the net. A captured animal may climb out of a shallow net. The size of the mesh is important, too. If the mesh is too large, the animal may force its head through and injure itself or strangle. If you must use a shallow net, immediately place the frame against a flat surface to prevent escape. You can further restrict the animal’s movement by carefully pressing on it with a stick. Whenever possible, encourage the animal to enter the net on its own. You might injure an animal while swinging a hoop net, if you accidentally hit it with the frame.

            Very few NWCOs have access to drugs (such as ketamine hydrochloride, tiletamine, alphachloralose, and metatomadine) that can be used to capture an animal directly. These “immobilizing agents” are heavily regulated by federal and state agencies. NWCOs with the proper training work under the supervision of veterinarians, who have the necessary permits from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency. In New York, permits are also required to use syringes and needles. Staff from USDA-APHIS-Wildlife Services may provide technical assistance for bird capture programs involving alphachloralose.

            Although these drugs are not available to most NWCOs, they may increase the operator’s safety while reducing the animal’s stress. But things can go wrong, even for highly trained and experienced people, because when you’re working in the field, you have less control of the situation.

            For more information about alphachloralose, contact:
            USDA-APHIS-Wildlife Services

            Nonlethal techniques: General trapping tips

            • The trap design should be matched to the species and to the situation.
            • Always choose trap types that minimize the risk of catching unintended wildlife species or pets.
            • Leave a phone number so your customer can reach you in an emergency.
            • Set traps (including cage traps) so that children and domestic animals can’t reach them. Either may harass captured animals and possibly get bitten.
            • Be discreet keep traps out-of-view of the general public.
            • Secure and label all traps with your name and address (required by law).
            • Take steps to protect captured animals from bad weather including summer heat, rain, snow, and cold. Covering a trap or setting it in a more protected location can help.
            • For the most common nuisance species, you don’t need to worry as much about getting human scent on the traps. Consider where they’re living and what they do—they’re used to people.
            • The proper use of baits and lures may increase your capture rate and help you avoid capturing animals you didn’t want to trap.
            • To prevent trapped animals from reaching through the cage and tearing up turf or nearby objects, place the trap on pavement, or put a large piece of hardware cloth underneath the trap.
            • Take steps to avoid orphaning wildlife.
            • Set traps where they’re most likely to capture the target animal and not others. (“Location, location, location.”)

            Nonlethal techniques: Live traps

            Live traps are effective devices for capturing many species. Shown here are a raccoon, opossum, and woodchuck in the back of a NWCO’s truck. Notice that cardboard placed between the cage traps to keep the animals from seeing each other. This may reduce their stress during transport.

            This is probably the animal removal tool used most often by NWCOs. A live trap is meant to capture an animal without killing it. Some types of live traps are cage traps (also known as “box traps”), multiple capture traps, foothold traps, nets, and a variety of bird traps.

            Live trapping has some advantages. You can see what you’ve caught, and prove your success to your customer and it prevents animals from dying in inaccessible locations, one of the hazards of using pesticides. In addition to the foul odor caused by decay, the presence of a dead animal can attract other pests. In most cases, if you’re using a live trap, you would be able to release an animal that had been caught accidentally.

            There are some disadvantages to live trapping as well. It’s usually labor-intensive, and you might capture the wrong animal. If the live trap is used improperly, an animal may die in it, from lack of food or water, exposure to heat during the summer, weather extremes, or from attacks by wildlife, pets, or people. Some animals might hurt themselves because of the stress of being restrained, or while trying to escape.

            If you’re not experienced with live traps, we strongly recommend that you seek hands-on training—especially before using foothold traps. There are several excellent courses, including the DEC Trapper Education Course, and the Trapper’s College and Furbearer Management Short Course offered by Fur Takers of America. Sessions on trapping techniques are often incorporated into seminars, conferences, and conventions sponsored by NWCO associations and trapping associations (see the resource list for state and national contacts). There are opportunities for one-on-one instruction, too. Experienced trappers often advertise such services in trade journals. You’ll also find many books, videos, and magazines about trapping. Consider reading Trapping in the 21st Century.

            Cage trap in set position.

            Cage traps (a.k.a. “box traps”) are the main stock-in-trade of most NWCOs. These traps are often made of wire or plastic and come in many sizes and styles. They may open on one, or both ends. Customers may call all cage traps “Havaharts” after a popular model, but there are many designs and manufacturers, such as Tomahawk and Safeguard. For example, there are special, smaller versions of squirrel-sized cage traps that fit into woodstoves and chimney pipes.

            An animal enters the cage, then steps on a treadle, which causes the door(s) at the end(s) of the trap to close. Cage traps are easy to set and do double duty as a carrier. Little site preparation is usually needed. They are generally safe for children and pets. Most people think they’re humane. Unfortunately, most cage traps are bulky, and because of their size and shape, they’re hard to conceal. This makes them more vulnerable to theft and vandalism. They are relatively expensive, and need frequent cleaning. Cage traps are not universally effective in capturing animals. Some species, such as foxes, are usually shy of these traps. Even individuals of species that are generally easy to catch in a cage trap, such as raccoons and gray squirrels, can be “trap-shy,” especially if they have been captured before.

            Tips for live trapping mammals in an attic using a cage trap.

            • Set the trap on the roof, as close to the entry hole as possible. Why not in the attic? Because adult raccoons seem to be less wary of traps on the roof than they are of traps placed in attics or on the ground.
            • With a roof set, you can safely use a few baits that wouldn’t be recommended for a ground set, such as pet food, because non-target animals aren’t as likely to go up on a roof. Avoid oily fish products such as sardines, because they might stain the roof.
            • With a roof set, you can also check the trap from the outside of the building.
            • How will you keep the trap from sliding off the roof? If the owner agrees, drive screws part way into the roof, then wire the trap to the screws. Once the trap is secure, finish driving the screws into the roof, then dab some roof sealant onto the heads of the screws.

            Tips for live trapping mammals on the ground using a cage trap:

            • Set the trap in the animal’s travel path, or in an area the animal uses often. (Look for sign.)
            • Choose a bait that will appeal to the target animal but not attract unwanted animals. For example, pet food attracts raccoons—and cats and dogs. If you want to trap a raccoon, a better option might be marshmallows, which aren’t as enticing to cats. Eggs are sometimes used as bait for skunks. Apples or raw vegetables are good woodchuck baits.
            • Covering the bottom of the trap with soil or leaves may also convince an animal to enter.
            • Raccoons may respond to a visual attractant such as a piece of aluminum foil suspended from the roof of the trap.
            • There are many commercially available scent lures. Just be aware that lures may attract unwanted species, too. NWCOs tend to use lures when they’re dealing with a trap-shy individual, or must set their trap away from the nuisance animal’s favorite areas.
            • After you have the trap set and baited, “dry fire” or trip the trap. Make sure the trap door(s) close smoothly and firmly.

            This trap (Lil’ Grizz Get’rz™) takes advantage of the coon’s dexterity. Many animals can stick their paws into a “hole” (the trap), but most can’t grasp and pull out an object that’s within. Coons can. The object is the trigger, and they’ll try to pull it out, which fires the trap.

            Multiple capture traps are able to catch more than one animal without having to be reset. Most multiple capture traps are designed for mice. Some brands (such as Ketch-All®) will catch animals up to the size of chipmunks. However, larger animals are likely to suffer harm. Some designs (such as Ketch-All® and Kwick Katch®) have a wind-up spring that powers a rotating mechanism. The mice are shuttled into a holding compartment. Other traps (such as the Victor Tin Cat®) have one-way doors that allow mice to enter, but not leave. If you intend to use this as a live trap, you must ensure that it’s checked often enough so that animals don’t overheat and die in the trap.

            Foothold traps restrain animals by holding the foot. Foothold traps can be used on land and in the water. In nuisance wildlife control in New York, they are the most efficient tools for catching coyotes and foxes, and are also important for raccoon, beaver, and muskrat. There are several different designs, including the coilspring trap, which is probably the most commonly used foothold trap the longspring trap and several new cylindrical foothold traps (Lil’ Grizz Get’rz®, Duffer trap®, EGG trap®) meant specifically for raccoons. These cylindrical foothold traps reduce the chance of catching the wrong species and the risk of the raccoon injuring itself.

            To set a coilspring trap, you must fully depress the spring levers. This compresses the springs. Then, place the dog across the nearest jaw until the tip of the dog fits into the notch of the pan. The dog holds the trap open in its set position. When an animal steps on the pan, it dislodges the dog from its notch and springs the trap, closing the jaws around its foot.

            Left. a coilspring trap, a type of foothold trap, shown in its set position. This live trap is shown in its sprung position at Right.

            Above, a coilspring trap, a type of foothold trap, shown in its set position. This live trap is shown in its sprung position at left.

            In some cases, modifying a standard coilspring trap by padding or laminating the jaws will reduce the chance of injuring the captured animal while possibly increasing the effectiveness of the trap. There are commercial models available with these modifications, too. Many NWCOs also add at least one swivel between the trap chain and the stake that anchors the trap to the ground. These swivels allow the captured animal to move around without binding the chain and twisting its leg. (Most within the chain are double swivels, but single swivels are usually used at the end of the chain.)

            Adjusting the pan tension on coilspring traps helps reduce the chance of capturing the wrong species (an animal that weighs less than the target species should be able to step on the pan without triggering the trap). There are several ways to adjust pan tension. With some trap designs, you can tighten or loosen the pan tension screw, which controls the amount of pressure needed to spring the trap. The tighter the screw, the heavier the animal must be to spring the trap.

            In New York, there are legal restrictions on the jaw spread of a foothold trap. The jaw spread is the distance between the two jaws when the trap is set (not counting the thickness of each jaw’s gripping surface). A foothold trap set on land is allowed a maximum jaw spread of 5 3/4 inches in water, the jaw spread cannot be greater than 7 1/4 inches. There’s another restriction for foothold traps set on land in New York: if the trap has a jaw spread of 4 inches or larger it must be equipped with a pan tensioning device and must be covered with some material such as soil, sand, or leaves.

            Birds. Nets are usually used to capture birds, such as sparrows and starlings, inside warehouses. To use one type of fine-threaded net, called a “mist net,” you’ll need training, skill, and a permit (it takes skill to remove a bird from a mist net without harming the bird). Unless you have the appropriate federal and state permits, a NWCO should NEVER use a mist net to try to capture wild songbirds outside. Mist nets should be monitored during use and removed immediately after. Even veteran users can become frustrated trying to capture a sparrow or two in a net inside a large warehouse.

            Bird live traps are available in many designs. Most are designed to capture particular types of birds. Some will capture one bird at a time, while others can capture many birds. To increase your chance of success, give the birds time to get used to the cage trap. First, put out some bird seed, shelled corn for pigeons, or other appropriate bait to get the birds used to feeding in the area. (If the birds don’t come to the site, choose another area.) Once the birds are feeding at the site, place the cage trap next to the bait and prop it open with wires. Place bait outside and inside the trap, to encourage the birds to enter the trap. Finally, when the birds are used to entering the trap, set the trap and place the bait only inside the trap. Leave one or two captured birds inside the trap as decoys. Give them shelter, and water and food, daily.

            Cable restraints. This tool is not legal in New York, with one exception: with training, certification, and a special permit, a NWCO may use cable restraints to capture beaver.

            Nonlethal techniques: One-way doors (“check-valves”)

            One-way doors may look very different, but they all do the same thing: let the animal out and keep it from getting back in. Above, left: Looking into the device, you can see its trap door in the set position. At right, the same one-way door design, used to remove flying squirrels from an attic. If you opened the left-hand side of the device, they’d leave on their own. Bottom: Mesh is often used to make a one-way door for bats. This one-way door design is usually called a “checkvalve.”

            One-way doors may look very different, but they all do the same thing: let the animal out and keep it from getting back in. Above, left: Looking into the device, you can see its trap door in the set position. At right, the same one-way door design, used to remove flying squirrels from an attic. If you opened the left-hand side of the device, they’d leave on their own.

            Bottom: Mesh is often used to make a one-way door for bats. This one-way door design is usually called a “checkvalve.”

            These devices allow an animal to leave but not re-enter a building. They come in a variety of designs, sizes, and materials, from plastic checkvalves or nets used for bat control, to wire frames that are specially designed to fit certain cage traps. Some NWCOs build their own one-way doors. One of the advantages of using this tool is that you don’t have to handle any animals. This is a relatively new tool in nuisance wildlife control, but its use is increasing.

            Before installing a one-way door, conduct a thorough inspection to make sure there are no young present which are still immobile and dependent on their mother. One-way doors are only effective if the animal can find and use the exit but cannot find, or force its way back through the door—or find another way into the building. Remember, if a mother has been separated from her young and they’re still inside, she will be highly motivated to find another way in.

            Here’s how a one-way door is used in bat control. A commercial checkvalve or simple netting is installed over the bat’s primary exit hole. All the other holes are sealed. Bats exit at the bottom of the one-way door, but when they attempt to return, their sense of smell guides them back to the hole. They land on the mesh (or checkvalve) near the hole, and stay there, sniffing around. They just don’t crawl down the mesh. After a suitable period of time, the one-way doors are removed, and the main entry sites are closed. (For more information, see the “house bats” account in Appendix B or the Cornell Cooperative Extension’s video, The facts about bats: Exploring conflicts, designing solutions.)

            Nonlethal techniques: Frightening techniques and repellents

            Repellents, you may remember from the earlier discussion, are objects, substances, or techniques that frighten an animal away. Or they make the desired object, such as a crop or nesting site, undesirable—the repellent may make that object smell or taste nasty, or feel bad to the touch.

            There are several tools and techniques used to repel animals: scare devices chemicals (which can only be used by NWCOs with a commercial pesticide applicator license) hazing with dogs, hawks, falcons, or radio-controlled boats and cars and the use of guard animals.

            Objects that look scary, such as mylar tape, strobe lights, lasers, models of predators, and “scare-eye” balloons, are often used to drive off birds. Geese and crows can be easily dispersed from a night-time roost by pointing a spotlight, laser pointer, or laser pistol (such as the Avian Dissauder®) at them. Visual repellents range dramatically in price, sophistication, and effectiveness. For example, everyone recognizes a scarecrow, but there are versions that actually move. These animated “human effigies” tend to work much better than the charming homemade kind, which are better considered as garden decorations. (Whenever possible, choose a repellent that moves, such as by swaying in the wind). Visual repellents should be clearly visible.

            Objects that sound frightening, include a variety of firecracker-like noisemakers and recordings of distress calls and alarm calls. Sometimes, even banging a pot or rattling tin plates will drive off birds (but not ultrasonic devices, which they can’t hear). Distress and alarm calls are most effective. Before using any noisemakers, check local ordinances and consider the effects on the neighbors. Fireworks-based noisemakers (a.k.a. “pyrotechnic devices”) include:

            • bangers (a.k.a. “bird bombs”): makes a loud bang. It’s often launched from a handheld pistol launcher. Bangers can be used at medium range (50-100 feet).
            • screamers: makes a long, drawn out whistle. They can be launched from a handheld pistol launcher or a 12-gauge shotgun. The shell flies out about 100 feet, screaming and whistling all the way.
            • shell-crackers (or “crackers”): makes a loud bang that sounds like a M-80 firecracker. These shells are fired from a twelve-gauge shotgun, exploding about 75 yards away.
            • propane cannons: unlike the other devices, propane cannons can be used with a timer. All of the other devices must be fired by a person.

            There are a few devices that combine flashing lights and scary noises, for example, the Critter Gitter®. Some of these can be very effective because they vary the pattern of the frightening element.

            Chemicals that make objects smell, taste, or feel bad. You’d need a commercial pesticide applicator license to use any of these products in your NWCO business. For information about the training, contact the DEC’s Bureau of Pesticide Management or Cornell’s Pesticide Management Education Program.

            Hazing describes a technique in which dogs, hawks, falcons, or radio-controlled aircraft and boats drive nuisance animals away from a site. Hazing Canada geese with border collies is one of the most effective ways to chase the birds away from golf courses, public parks, and similar locations. Hawks are sometimes used to chase other birds away from airport runways.

            Don’t haze birds in their nesting areas during the nesting season—that’s a violation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Be very careful if you want to haze Canada geese during their molt (usually June 15–July 15), because the geese are vulnerable and can’t fly. It’s wise to first secure a permit that would allow the taking of geese. Even a well-trained dog might accidentally injure a goose while chasing it. Without a permit, that’s also a violation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

            Guard animals such as dogs and llamas are sometimes used to protect livestock, especially sheep, from predators. The livestock and the guard animal must be kept within a fenced area. Dogs can sometimes protect orchards or Christmas tree plantations or vineyards from deer or turkey damage.

            You may encounter different definitions of “repellent” and “exclusion device.” There is natural overlap between the two categories. Don’t sweat it. We’ve classified products that are meant to be permanent installations, such as porcupine wire and post-and-grid systems, as exclusion devices. Although they repel birds, these devices are clearly barriers. Recordings of distress and alarm calls may have a long-lasting effect, but they are noisemakers.

            Does this classification matter to anyone but an academic? Yes—because you need to remember that in general, repellents are a bit trickier to use. Although they may provide quick relief, it often doesn’t last. Exclusion devices, on the other hand, often require an up-front investment because the materials and installation may be expensive. They tend to provide long-lasting results, and help to prevent problems. Exclusion can be a proactive approach, but repellents are generally a reactive strategy.

            General tips for the use of repellents and frightening techniques

            • Before you use any repellents, double-check their legal status at all levels: federal, state, and local. Are you dealing with a protected species (usually, a migratory bird)? Any local ordinances that come into play? For example, noise ordinances would affect your ability to make use of pyrotechnic devices, which are purposefully loud. Local bird control ordinances might affect your choices, too.
            • If you want to use chemical repellents, you must follow pesticide regulations.
            • Often, a combination of techniques is more effective than using one technique by itself.
            • Repellents tend to be more successful in preventing new behavior (such as roosting, nesting, or feeding) than in stopping a well-established behavior.
            • Another thing to remember is that animals get used to both visual and sound repellents. To increase your chance of success, mix things up a little. Move the devices around. Change the patterns of the noise or lights. Keep it unpredictable.
            • Remove the devices after the problem has stopped (or if the animals have left the area for other reasons).

            Lethal techniques

            Just as there is no magic pill solution to wildlife conflicts, there is no one killing technique that will work best for all species or in all situations. Some methods are not appropriate for young animals or diving or burrowing animals. Some work better with birds, or reptiles, or mammals. Some require additional permits, or more than an average level of skill, experience, or strength. They may be effective for some NWCOs and not others. And if rabies is an issue, you must select your method carefully.

            Sometimes, protecting people will be your highest priority. You may need to kill an animal as quickly as possible. Even in such cases, do the best you can to provide the most humane death possible under the circumstances. Most people agree that a “humane death” is one that is as painless as possible. The ideal is to be quick. Either kill the animal quickly, or cause rapid unconsciousness, then rapid death.

            How do animals experience pain?

            You need to know just a little bit about how animals experience pain to understand how this works. A sensation triggers an impulse that travels along the nerve endings to the brain. The brain interprets this as—ouch!—pain. (The most important part of the brain involved in the sensation of pain is the cerebral cortex, which is in the front of the brain. Other parts of the brain are involved in the feelings of fear, anxiety, and discomfort.)

            The brain must be working in order for the animal to experience pain. If you can break the circuit between the brain and the rest of the body, the message will not be delivered and understood the animal will not feel pain.

            Bottom line: no working brain, no pain.

            That seems straightforward so far, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, there is disagreement about which methods are appropriate to kill wildlife under field conditions. There hasn’t been much research that’s really relevant to the situations NWCOs encounter. And to make things even more difficult, some of the methods that are well-accepted for wildlife, such as shooting, cannot be used in all areas.

            Lethal techniques: Rationale for the methods included in this manual

            The following recommendations are meant for the species discussed in this manual. In the species accounts in Appendices B and C, we’ve listed preferred and acceptable killing methods for each species. Whenever possible, use a preferred method.

            Some of the lethal techniques we’ll describe can also be used as removal methods, such as lethal trapping, shooting, and the use of barbiturates or pesticides. The others are strictly killing methods: the use of a carbon dioxide chamber, cervical dislocation, stunning, and chest compression.

            This list reflects current scientific information and the judgment of experienced NWCOs and wildlife biologists—people who care deeply about the treatment of wildlife and have actually used these methods in the field over many years. Many factors were considered when evaluating a method. Is it as quick and painless as possible? Is the technique or product generally safe for the NWCO, the public, other animals, and the environment? Is it practical for use in the field? Does it require additional permits? Is it legal in most places? How reliable is the method? Can most NWCOs be expected to master the technique, or does it require more than average skill or strength? Although we did consider public opinion, we did not rule out techniques that don’t look pretty because in some situations, these methods may provide a more humane death than a technique that looks better.

            Some of these methods also meet the guidelines described in the 2000 Report of the American Veterinarian Medical Association Panel on Euthanasia. Although their report focuses on domestic animals and the techniques used to kill them in a controlled, indoor setting—it was written for vets, after all—you may still wish to read it to better understand some of these techniques. The report is available online. Click on the reference above to download the PDF file.

            This is the aspect of your job that might require the most discretion. In general, it’s best to work in private. If a crowd has gathered, ask them to leave, or move the animal to a private setting before you kill it. This is safer for the people and kinder to the animal, who may be stressed by the presence of the crowd. If you must kill an animal in front of others, first explain what you are doing and why.

            Carry a variety of tools so you can choose from the full range of methods, selecting the one that’s most appropriate for the situation. In some cases, you may use one method to cause unconsciousness and another to kill the animal.

            With the exception of lethal traps and the use of pesticides, which are set and then left in place, the NWCO is able to monitor the animal to make sure it experiences as little distress as possible. Some lethal methods, such as the use of carbon dioxide chambers, may require adjustment during the process. It’s also important to confirm that the animal’s dead. An easy way to do this is to touch the animal’s eye with a long stick. If it’s dead, it won’t blink.

            Lethal techniques: Lethal traps

            The types of lethal traps most frequently used by NWCOs are mouse and rat snap-back traps, body-gripping traps (such as the Conibear® line), and mole traps. Most lethal traps kill an animal with a mechanical blow. When properly set, lethal traps are usually highly effective and selective. Although death usually comes quickly, it’s not always instantaneous. Lethal traps may work faster than cage traps, reducing the number of visits needed.

            Lethal traps are appropriate for use with small to large mammals (mice to beaver size) and unprotected birds of any age. Match the size of the trap to the size of the targeted animal, but use the smallest trap appropriate for the target. The lethal traps currently available in New York are generally not suitable for use with deer, bear, coyotes, foxes, and some birds.

            There are some disadvantages associated with the use of lethal traps. First, they’re lethal. If you’ve caught the wrong animal you can’t release it unharmed. If a trap is not set properly you may get a bad or nonfatal capture. It takes more skill, experience, and time to set a lethal trap (you might need more strength or setting tools). The site often needs to be prepared.

            Again, if you are not an experienced trapper, we strongly recommend that you seek hands-on training—especially before using body-gripping traps. There are several excellent courses, including the DEC Trapper Education Course, and the Trapper’s College and Furbearer Management Short Course offered by Fur Takers of America. Sessions on trapping techniques are often incorporated into seminars, conferences, and conventions sponsored by NWCO associations and trapping associations (see the resource list for state and national contacts). There are opportunities for one-on-one instruction, too. Experienced trappers often advertise such services in trade journals. You’ll also find many books, videos, and magazines about trapping. Consider reading Trapping in the 21st Century (PDF).

            General tips for the use of lethal traps

            • The trap’s size and design should be matched to the species and to the situation.
            • Use the smallest trap appropriate for the targeted species.
            • Leave a phone number so your customer can reach you in an emergency.
            • Set traps so that children and domestic animals can’t reach them and get hurt.
            • Be discreet. Keep traps out of view of the general public. If you can’t switch to a less visible place, then hide the trap with a cardboard cover. There are commercial models that are enclosed within a tunnel, which partially conceal the trapped animal (designed for squirrels).
            • Label all traps with your name and address (required by law).
            • Secure traps so predators can’t remove them.
            • At least one of the trap’s jaws must be able to rotate fully.
            • Take steps to avoid orphaning wildlife.

            Always choose trap designs and methods that minimize the risk of catching unintended wildlife or pets. This might include using baits to selectively attract the target placing the trap in a vertical “cubby” set, deep-notch box, or in a bucket with a restricted opening, so other animals can’t reach the trap covering the burrow entrance and trap or using a one-way trigger, so the nuisance animal encounters the trap when it tries to exit through its hole, but other animals can’t reach the trap and adjusting the trigger position to match the size and habits of the target species.

            The proper use of baits and lures may increase your capture rate and help you avoid capturing animals you didn’t want to trap. Baits and lures are more often used with snap-back traps.

            Lethal techniques: Lethal traps – Body-gripping traps

            Body-gripping traps are spring-loaded lethal traps available in many sizes. They’re usually square, but some specialized models are round. Body-gripping traps are often called “Conibears,” which is the name of a popular model manufactured by Oneida-Victor, Inc., but there are many manufacturers. There are also new, smaller designs, including some with one-way triggers, which are more selective, and traps designed specifically for squirrels.

            “Magnum” or “zero tolerance” versions are also available. This model is stronger and its jaws close very tightly, so it often kills faster and more consistently than the standard trap. This may increase the chance of a proper strike with squirrels or raccoons, or other small or flexible animals that might pull back if there’s a slight gap between the jaws. Magnum versions are very strong—a #220 Magnum body-gripping trap could break bones—so be very careful when setting the trap. Consider using setting tools and safety devices.

            To set a body-gripping trap, you must compress the spring until its tips nearly meet at the rotating point of the jaws. Then hold both jaws open and fit the dog (a.k.a. the “trigger hook”), which is notched, into the notch located on the trigger. Once securely in place, the dog holds the jaws open. In its correct position, the jaws of the trap close on the top and bottom of the animal. Stabilize the trap to keep it in this top-to-bottom strike position, and to ensure that it can’t easily be knocked over. Anchor the trap, too. (These traps are lightweight enough to be carried off by predators attracted by the captured animal.) In New York, the jaw spread of a body-gripping trap set on land cannot be greater than 5 3/4 inches (the jaw spread is the distance between the two jaws when the trap is set).

            Some models of body-gripping traps, usually those with two springs, have safety hooks that hold one spring while you’re setting the other. If you use a safety hook, remember to release it when you’re done setting the trap, so the trap can fire.

            When an animal passes through the jaws of the trap, it moves the trigger, which dislodges the dog from its notch and springs the trap, closing the jaws around the animal’s neck or chest. Ideally, this trap catches the animal directly behind the head, snapping the part of the spine that’s in the upper third of the neck (called the “cervical spine” area). A proper hit provides a quick death.

            If you are trapping raccoons, skunks, squirrels, or woodchucks, modify the trigger to help to ensure a top-to-bottom strike (which is more humane) and prevent the animal from refusing to enter the trap. These species don’t like to have anything brush against their eyes or whiskers, so separate the trigger and center it on the bottom of the trap.

            As with all lethal techniques, care is needed to make sure that only the intended nuisance animals are caught. Body-gripping traps are often set in front of the animal’s entrance hole because the animal must pass through the jaws of the trap to be captured. This way, only an animal entering or leaving the hole will be caught. If necessary, guide the animal into the trap. Use hardware cloth to reduce the size of the entry hole (shown in the photo) or to block escape routes.

            This tool often provides the quickest way to remove a raccoon or squirrel from an attic. Another advantage is that non-target animals are not nearly as likely to be on the roof as they are on the ground. But this trap is not appropriate for all settings.

            Use extra caution if you’re setting a body-gripping trap on the ground, because of the risk to people, pets, and other wildlife. You can modify your technique and your equipment to minimize these risks. Here are some suggestions.

            Cover the trap and burrow entrance

            Let’s say you’ve been unsuccessful trying to catch a woodchuck in a cage trap, or you need to trap many woodchucks. A body-gripping trap, if used cautiously, may be the right tool. Dig out the opening to the woodchuck’s den a bit, so you can set the body-gripping trap in the burrow’s entrance. The trap should be attached to a stake in the ground. Cover the burrow entrance and the trap with a large, loosely attached piece of hardware cloth, or with a box. When the woodchuck leaves its den, it will spring the trap, but an animal poking its head into the burrow entrance wouldn’t.

            Place the trap in a container (a vertical cubby set, deep-notch box, or bucket with small hole)

            Three views of a body-gripping trap placed in a vertical cubby set. Above, left: The vertical cubby is attached to the tree at about five inches off the ground, to make sure that a dog can’t reach up into the box and spring the trap. Right: In this set, the trap was held in place by friction, so when it sprung, the trap fell out of the box. You can anchor the trap so it will remain in the cubby after it’s sprung, too. Bottom: Bait is placed on a shelf near the top of the box. Notice the body-gripping trap in its set position. You can see the trigger and jaws within the box, and the spring sticking out to the left.

            One way to lower the risk of catching an unintended species is to use a vertical “cubby” set, shown in the photographs. This is a baited box that’s open on one end, with the trap set well inside, usually held in place by friction between the coilsprings and the narrow notch in the box. You must use a model with two coilsprings, because one with a single spring won’t stay in place. Make sure the open bottom of the box is no more than five inches off the ground. If a dog investigates, it may be hit on the nose, but it’s unlikely that the trap would capture the dog. Cats cannot easily enter a vertical cubby set.

            The deep-notch box is an alternative to the vertical cubby set. It’s set horizontally on the ground. If you’re using a #220 body-gripping trap, the notches should be 8″ deep. The trap is placed in the midpoint of the notches, which hold the trap in place. Make sure the trap is securely anchored. Center the trigger on the top of the trap. Bait should be placed deep inside the box, at least 6″ behind the trap. The top of the deep-notch box is blocked with a piece of wood (see photo). By restricting the size of the opening, you reduce the risk that a dog will spring the trap. The opening of a deep-notch box should be no more than 7″ high.

            By restricting the size of the opening, you reduce the risk that a dog will spring the trap. The opening of a deep-notch box should be no more than 7″ high.

            Although the vertical cubby set and the deep-notch box work on the same idea, and are interchangeable, they have different strengths. The vertical cubby is less likely to attract cats (unless you’ve used the wrong bait) and is even more dog-proof than the deep-notch box. Sometimes, a raccoon will avoid a vertical cubby but investigate a deep-notch box. Some NWCOs prefer one design over the other, as well.

            Another option is to place the body-gripping trap inside a plastic bucket that has a restricted opening. The bucket can be round or square, as long as it has a lid. An opening no larger than 7″ is cut into the lid, slightly off-center. It works like a deep-notch box, only it’s made from plastic instead of wood. Have some extra lids prepared, in case one is damaged or lost.

            Use baits that selectively attract the nuisance animal

            Both marshmallows and sardines will attract raccoons, but marshmallows won’t entice cats, so that’s a safer bait to choose if you must trap in an area where there are free-roaming cats. Mice will be attracted by many baits that are of varying appeal to other species, but you could avoid using bait entirely. Tie a cotton ball to the trigger instead. That’s an attractive bit of nest material to a mouse, but cotton is of no interest to many other species. Whenever possible, use baits and lures that will attract only the nuisance animals.

            Use a trap with a one-way trigger

            The one-way trigger rests against the bottom jaws of the trap and only moves freely in one direction. In this illustration, the animal would have to move from left to right to lift the trigger and spring the trap. An animal coming from the other direction might bump the trigger, but it’s not likely to lift it high enough to spring the trap.

            Compare the trap with the one-way trigger to the standard model shown below it. See how that trigger swings freely? It can spring the trap regardless of which way the animal approaches. That means it can catch an animal on its way out of its den, which is what you want—but it might also accidentally capture an animal that stopped to investigate. In some cases, that might be the wrong animal.

            There are commercial traps with one-way triggers, but you can modify an existing trap, too. For example, you can add a 220-wire trigger to a #120 body-gripping trap.

            Lethal techniques: Other lethal traps

            Mouse and rat snap-back traps. The familiar mouse trap is a form of body-gripping trap. And yes, people have “built a better mouse trap.” Several, in fact (see the illustrations on the next page).

            Your trapping strategy will vary depending on whether you’re trapping mice, rats, or other small mammals. See the species accounts for mice and Norway rats in Appendix B for information about the number of traps to use and how to place them effectively.

            Left: Victor Quick Kill Trap. The bait cover, which is actually the trap’s trigger, is shown in black (with the V). When the lid is lifted, the strike bar lowers. Right: a clothespin design.

            If you’re trapping mice or rats, you’ll need to use many traps, so you may want a model that’s easy to set. There are many options besides the traditional mouse trap, which can be cumbersome. Snap-back traps with expanded triggers, and the “clothespin” design are much easier to set than the traditional mouse trap. The Quick Kill Mouse Trap made by Victor has a lid over the bait cup. Only animals that are motivated to seek the bait will lift that lid—and that’s what triggers the trap. This means that an animal can accidentally step on the lid without setting off the trap. There’s another advantage to this design. The bait cup is located to position the mouse in the perfect strike position. So this trap is both more selective and more effective than the traditional mouse trap. It also has a safety catch and will not fire if it’s picked up.

            Mole traps, another form of body-gripping trap, come in several designs. Some spear the moles with a harpoon, others have scissor-like jaws. They are all set underground in the moles’ tunnels. The key to successful mole trapping is to identify active tunnels. Look for dead grass or soft spots in the lawn. Prepare the site and set the trap according to the instructions given for the particular trap design. If there is no activity after a few days, move the trap. If moles are active near the trap, but you’re not catching them, either add more traps, or switch to another type of trap.

            Foothold traps can be used as lethal traps, as well. This is generally limited to a submersion set used to capture beaver or muskrat.

            Glue boards are just what they sound like: a layer of long-lasting adhesive spread over a surface, usually cardboard or plastic. Small animals get stuck in the adhesive. Although some call the glue board a live trap, it’s not often used that way. In fact, some biologists believe that you cannot remove the animal from the trap unharmed, because the oil that is used to loosen the glue may harm the animal. In practice, animals are frequently left to die on glue boards. Glue boards are not recommended as a general-use tool. They may be needed to deal with some severe infestations of mice or rats. Snap-back traps are often as effective as glue boards and are more humane, though setting them does take more effort. If you use glue boards, check them frequently and use a best practice to humanely kill the mice or rats.

            Advantages of lethal trapping

            • when it works right, lethal traps are one of the fastest and most humane killing methods
            • same piece of equipment can be used to capture and kill animal, so there’s less handling involved
            • equipment is easy to get and reasonably priced
            • it’s easy to transport equipment
            • equipment is lightweight and compact, especially when compared to cage traps

            Disadvantages of lethal trapping

            • can capture and kill nontarget animals
            • can hurt people
            • may require additional tools to set the trap
            • misfire could result in injury to animal
            • site often needs preparation, so it may take longer to set trap

            Lethal techniques – Shooting

            Firearms includes pistols, shotguns, rifles, hand guns, and air rifles (high-end pellet guns). This technique is appropriate for use with medium to large mammals (squirrel size and larger), birds, and reptiles. Obviously, shooting requires training and skill. There are safety concerns and legal restrictions to consider, too. For proper training in the use of firearms, attend the DEC Hunter Education course or a training course sponsored by the National Rifle Association (NRA).

            If an animal is restrained, shooting may be one of the fastest and most practical ways to humanely kill a wild animal.

            General tips | Guidelines for shooting mammals | Guidelines for shooting birds | Advantages and disadvantages of shooting

            General tips for the use of shooting

            • Take the time you need to take the best shot.
            • The type of firearm you choose and the ammunition should be matched to the size and species of the animal.
            • In most cases, small-caliber, low-energy projectiles are best. A .22 caliber rifle is adequate for most small mammals. Air rifles may be used on squirrels and birds. Among the most effective types of ammunition are hollow point bullets or low velocity .22 rimfire cartridges, such as shorts or CB caps, which are also quieter.
            • Pay attention to the surface underneath, around, and behind the animal. Could a bullet ricochet? Bullets are less likely to ricochet off softer surfaces such as dirt or grass than off hard surfaces like concrete, asphalt, or rocks, or water.
            • You must follow both state and local firearms regulations.
            • Make sure the situation is safe. If a crowd has gathered, disperse them before you shoot the animal, or take the animal elsewhere.
            • Some species continue to move after they’ve been shot, such as squirrels, birds, raccoons, opossums, and woodchucks. This is a reflex but can be difficult to explain to someone who’s watching. A good reason to be discreet.

            Guidelines for shooting mammals

            If you need to do a rabies test, don’t shoot the animal in the head. You might destroy so much brain tissue that the lab wouldn’t be able to do the test, and you could spray potentially contaminated brain tissue into the air, which might expose you to the virus if the tissue came into contact with your eyes, mouth, or nose. (Rabies virus by itself is not airborne.) Instead, aim for the heart and lungs. The heart/lung target may also be a better option if dealing with a free-roaming animal, such as a deer.

            Target areas for the brain or heart/lung shots shown on a fox (illustration not to scale). The target areas are the same for most mammals, with the exception of the opossum.Target areas for the brain or heart/lungs shots shown on a opossum (illustration not to scale). Opossums have very small brains housed in a reasonably large skull. This means the target area- the brain – is actually much smaller than you’d imagine, just from looking at the size of the animal’s head. Their brain is about the size of a pea.Opossums also have a very big crest that runs down the center of their skulls, called the “sagittal crest”. It’s very strong to deflect bullets. Unfortunately,, if you try to aim slightly off to the left or right to avoid hitting the crest, you miss the brain entirely. A side target might be a little easier. Imagine a line drawn between the eye and the ear, and aim closer to the base of the ear.

            What if you shot an animal in the head, and later learned that a rabies test is needed? Don’t panic. Submit the specimen. In many cases, the specimen will be adequate. What about that worst-case scenario, when it’s not possible to do an accurate rabies test? Then, as a precaution, the exposed person or animal would receive the post-exposure rabies vaccinations. That’s not fun, and there’s a limited supply of one of the drugs that’s given as part of this series, so don’t be cavalier about the quality of the specimens you submit for rabies tests.

            Although the head shot (aiming for the brain) is often considered faster and more humane than the heart/lung shot, this isn’t necessarily true. Please note that few people would be able to ensure a proper head shot at anything except close range.

            To properly target either the brain or the heart/lungs, you must think in three dimensions. Without proper aim, the bullet could deflect off the skull. For the brain shot, the barrel of the firearm should be a few inches from the head. Ideally, aim so the bullet will travel through the brain and spine and lodge in the animal’s body. If the animal’s head is turned so you don’t have the right target, you may be able to distract it and get it to move its head by tossing a rock.

            Guidelines for shooting birds (unprotected species)

            House sparrows, starlings, and pigeons can become trapped within large buildings such as malls, warehouses, and airport terminals. These structures often have food, water, and even nesting resources that allow the birds to survive. One of the most effective ways to remove a small number of birds from a large building is with an air rifle. Choose a higher end model with a scope for improved accuracy and performance. Most often, you’ll shoot the birds when the building is closed to the public. (Although pellet guns are not as powerful as gunpowder firearms, there are still risks to human safety, and to property.) Learn where the birds roost, then choose a position that will provide you with good shots. The building management may have a lift that will provide you with an elevated platform.

            Advantages of shooting

            • shooting is one of the fastest and most humane methods for killing wildlife
            • it will work with many different species, under many conditions
            • minimizes the handling of a live animal

            Disadvantages of shooting

            • may splatter brain tissue, saliva, or blood, which could expose someone to wildlife diseases
            • may interfere with the collection of the tissue sample needed for the rabies test
            • cannot be done everywhere. There are legal restrictions and safety concerns that limit its use
            • requires skill and proper equipment
            • can be dangerous to people and other species

            Lethal techniques: Carbon dioxide chamber

            The technique is fairly simple: the animal is placed in an enclosed space into which carbon dioxide gas is added at a controlled rate. When the animal breathes this gas, it quickly loses consciousness and then dies. The entire process takes about five minutes.

            How does it work?

            Carbon dioxide (CO2) is a colorless, odorless gas. It’s called an “inhalant agent” because the animal must breathe it in. CO2 affects the nervous system, the lungs, and the heart.

            Can I use CO2 on any species?

            Carbon dioxide chambers work well to humanely kill birds, rodents, and most small mammals. But you may encounter problems if you try this technique on animals that are old, very young (less than 2 weeks old), weak, or sick with a respiratory disease, because they’re often resistant to the effects of carbon dioxide. If possible, choose another technique to humanely kill animals that breathe slowly (such as reptiles or amphibians) or are very good at holding their breath (such as beaver and diving birds). Under these circumstances, CO2 might take too long to be considered a best practice.

            Commercial carbon dioxide chambers are often made of metal and have windows for monitoring the animal, but the chamber can be made of many materials, such as plywood or plastic. Coolers, garbage cans, and other containers have been converted into chambers. The best chambers are clear or have windows so you can monitor the animal, and are also easy to clean and transport.

            You may want to have several chambers of different sizes and designs, and a portable model. For example, bats can be more humanely killed in a small chamber that fills faster. A small, clear plastic container with two holes drilled into it (one for the tube feeding the gas, and a vent hole) would work well.

            One NWCO has rigged a garbage container on wheels to serve as both an enclosed trap and carbon dioxide chamber. He sets a cage trap within the chamber, then, after capturing the animal, wheels the can to a place where he can safely and discreetly attach the carbon dioxide tank and kill the animal. This combination of a trap within the CO2 chamber also offers a safety advantage, because there is no handling of the animal. Consider such an approach, especially when dealing with sick, rabies suspect, or highly aggressive animals.

            There may be a market niche for those willing to provide on-site wildlife euthanasia services, especially in areas where other techniques that are generally accepted by the public, such as shooting, aren’t legal or practical. With care, carbon dioxide chambers can be safely transported.

            Equipment needed – Homemade CO2 chamber

            • Many commercial coolers come with a drain hole at the bottom. Attach the hose to the drain hole. If your model lacks a drain hole, you can drill it out. To add a window to your chamber, drill through the cooler using a jigsaw. Cut a piece of plexiglass to fit, then attach to the cooler using epoxy.
            • chamber that’s twice as big as the animal
            • tank of carbon dioxide gas (available in several sizes such as 6 lb., 20 lb., 50 lb., and 60 lb. If you don’t need to lug it around, a larger tank might be cheaper to refill.)
            • hose or rubber tubing
            • flow regulator
            • commercial carbon dioxide chambers are available in different designs
            • check with welding suppliers you may be able to rent some of this equipment

            Equipment tips:

            • Choose a chamber that can hold a large cage trap so you don’t have to handle the animal. This is safer for you and less stressful for the animal.
            • The animal should be able to sit and rest comfortably within the chamber.
            • If the chamber is too tall, or if the vent hole is too low, the animal may be able to lift its head above the level of CO2 gas, which would make the process take longer.
            • The chamber is NOT supposed to be airtight! Air must be able to escape to leave room for the carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide is heavier than air, so it fills from the bottom up (like filling a glass of water). A vent hole near the top of the chamber or a loosely-fitted lid will let out the air but not the CO2. The vent hole will also prevent pressure buildup.
            • Have a spare tank of CO2 ready.
            • Don’t mess around with dry ice, fire extinguishers, car exhaust, or antacids as sources of carbon dioxide. They will not work reliably.

            Technique tips:

            • Always work in a well-ventilated space to minimize your exposure to the CO2, which can be dangerous to people, too.
            • Attach the hose from the CO2 tank to the bottom of the chamber.
            • Ideally, carbon dioxide should enter the chamber at a rate that displaces 20% of the oxygen each minute (more on this later).
            • Should you fill the chamber with CO2 before putting the animal in it? (This is called “precharging.”) Some experts say “yes,” others “no.” Precharging will speed up the process but many animals will react violently to high concentrations of CO2 if they’re awake. It’s less stressful to expose the animal to the gas at a carefully controlled rate. Right now, we say “no,” but watch for more research.
            • Even if you have a commercial carbon dioxide chamber, you may want to consider building your own mobile unit.
            • The chamber should be cleaned and aired out between uses. (A good reason to have more than one chamber.)

            Carbon dioxide chamber – Using a CO2 chamber, step-by-step

            1. Calculate the optimal CO2 flow for your chamber. This depends on the chamber’s size. Your math has to be done in the same units used by the flow regulator. Most are either calibrated in cubic feet/hour or liters/minute. If your flow regulator is calibrated to measure the amount of gas flow in “cubic feet/hour,” here’s how to convert your measurements to match:

            2. Place the animal into the chamber. If it’s in a trap, you can put the entire trap into the chamber.

            3. Turn on the carbon dioxide gas until the flow regulator shows the flow rate you’ve just calculated.

            4. Watch the animal. At first, the animal may move about or seem excitable. That’s a normal reaction that often happens right before the animal loses consciousness. If you see signs of extreme distress (excessive vocalizations, head shaking, fierce sneezing) turn down the flow rate. Later on, when the animal’s totally unconscious, it may still continue to move. That’s a reflex, not a sign of pain. Some NWCOs find that skunks react better to a slower flow rate.

            5. Wait a few minutes after the animal’s stopped moving and then turn off the gas. You can leave the animal in the chamber a little longer, if you’d like. It’s important to confirm that the animal is dead because if it isn’t and you expose it to air, it could revive. How can you tell? Touch a long stick to its eyeball. If it’s dead, it won’t blink. Or hang a string in front of its nose (just keep your hands away from the animal’s teeth). If it’s dead, the string will stay still, because there won’t be any breath to move it.

            6. If the animal’s not dead, or if you’re not sure, put it back in the chamber and repeat the process, or use another method.

            Advantages of carbon dioxide chambers

            • it’s been well-studied and has proved highly reliable
            • one of the most practical techniques for NWCOs
            • does not interfere with rabies testing
            • equipment is easy to get and reasonably priced, or can be made easily
            • can be done on-site
            • poses few hazards to people
            • doesn’t require special skills, strength, or additional permits
            • some of your customers may prefer this method, so there may be marketing advantages to its use

            Disadvantages of carbon dioxide chambers

            • may not work as well with burrowing or diving mammals reptiles amphibians animals that are old or very young (less than 2 weeks old) weak animals and those that are sick with a respiratory disease
            • may be slower than some of the other humane killing methods
            • may cause distress at first
            • equipment is a bit bulkier, and requires cleaning and airing between uses
            • you have to do a little math

            Lethal techniques: Cervical dislocation

            This method is commonly referred to as “breaking the neck” but would more accurately be described as “snapping the spine.” The goal is to quickly separate the spinal cord from the brain to provide a fast and painless death. The separation must take place at the base of the brain or within the upper third of the neck (the cervical spine area).

            This method requires skill, practice, and strength, especially with the larger animals, which have thicker, stronger necks. NWCOs unfamiliar with this technique should receive training and practice on dead animals before attempting this on a live animal.

            Cervical dislocation is used primarily for small to medium-sized birds (duck sized or smaller) and small mammals, such as mice and rabbits. Be cautious if working with a mammal, especially a rabies vector species (it’s safest to use a different method for them). This technique brings your hands into direct contact with the animal’s head near its mouth. Remember that no glove can provide 100% guaranteed protection.

            To snap the spine of a pigeon or duck-sized bird, grasp the base of the bird’s skull in one hand and its body (usually at the base of the neck) in the other hand. Pull hard and fast—twist your hands in opposite directions.

            Another cervical dislocation technique for birds uses pliers or vise grips.

            For smaller birds (up to 11 oz., about the weight of a pigeon), hold the bird in one hand, and a pair of needle-nose pliers in the other. Place the open pliers over the bird’s neck vertebrae (in the cervical spine area). Slide the pliers up the neck until they contact the head and are directly over the first and second vertebra in the top of the neck, which support the skull (the atlas and axis vertebra). Then close the pliers firmly and hold for 2–5 seconds.

            For larger birds (12 oz.–3 lbs., the upper limit is about the weight of a gull): Hold the bird in one hand, and a pair of square-jawed vise grips in the other. Adjust the vise grips so its jaws will slide over the bird’s neck but not over its head. Then slide the vise grips up to the base of the bird’s head. With your other hand, pull the bird’s body quickly, to snap its spine (separating the cervical vertebrae from the skull).

            To snap the spine of a small mammal or larger bird, put it on a hard, flat surface. Hold a strong stick or metal rod firmly against the base of the animal’s skull. Pull its body away from its head in a single, steady motion. Keep the stick in place, then bend the body over the head.

            Advantages of cervical dislocation:

            • it’s one of the fastest humane killing techniques
            • no equipment necessary
            • can be done discreetly in the field
            • if done correctly, it’s not bloody

            Disadvantages of cervical dislocation:

            • brings your hands into direct contact with the animal’s head, which, if dealing with mammals, increases your risk of exposure to rabies
            • this technique doesn’t look as good as others and may disturb onlookers. Animals often keep moving for several seconds or even minutes after death. That’s not a sign of pain it’s a reflex.
            • requires skill, speed, and strength
            • best restricted to small mammals (excluding the rabies vector species) and bird

            Lethal techniques: Stunning

            Stunning may be used for two different purposes: it may be intended to make the animal unconscious so another killing method may be used safely, or it may be intended as a primary killing method, in which case it’s usually referred to as a “lethal blow.”

            A lethal blow is a quick, very forceful blow to the head that is meant to kill the animal. It is appropriate for small animals, such as birds, rabbits, and small mammals (mice to squirrel-size). Work on a hard surface. The animal must be properly restrained so you can deliver the blow to the right location, which is the back of the head, unless using a special tool called a “penetrating captive bolt pistol.”

            The penetrating captive bolt pistol is a particularly helpful although expensive tool, which is often used on livestock. Powered by gunpowder charges or compressed air, this device forces a metal rod through the animal’s skull into its brain. Proper placement of the bolt on the forehead is crucial, so the animal must be securely restrained. And make sure that no one is within the “firing range, ” which is the length of the bolt, because they could be hurt. (One thing you must watch out for: make sure you have a penetrating captive bolt pistol. There are captive bolt pistols that don’t penetrate the brain. They just stun the animal.)

            All of the cautions that apply to cervical dislocation also apply to the use of a lethal blow, and to stunning. Although a lethal blow by itself may humanely kill the animal, it’s best to use a second method to be absolutely sure. Sometimes, NWCOs will stun an animal so they can more effectively use the killing method they’ve chosen. For example, a fox that’s been captured using a catchpole may be stunned so it can be safely handled and placed in a carbon dioxide chamber.

            Stunning is a less forceful blow delivered to the center of the head. The animal must be properly restrained to ensure the correct positioning of the blow. Once the animal is stunned unconscious, you can choose among several techniques to kill it.

            Stunning and use of carbon dioxide chamber: if an animal has been captured using one of the direct capture techniques, such as with a catchpole, it may be stunned to allow the NWCO to transfer it to the chamber safely.

            Stunning and shooting: if an animal is moving around too much to allow for a proper target, you can stun it into unconsciousness, and then orient it for the best shot. Or perhaps you need to move the animal to a place where it’s safer to shoot it.

            Stunning and cervical dislocation: This combination may be used on duck-sized birds, to gain a little more time to properly snap the spine.

            Stunning and decapitation: “Decapitation” means the head is quickly cut from the body. This method works like cervical dislocation. The goal is to quickly separate the spinal cord from the brain to provide a fast and humane death. Decapitation is used primarily for birds that are too large for cervical dislocation, such as geese, and sometimes for snakes. A recently killed snake may bite by reflex, so don’t handle its head. Use a heavy knife, ax, hatchet, or bolt cutters to cut the spine of a bird at the base of the head. A long-handled shovel or hoe can be used for a snake. The same uncontrolled movement that is seen after cervical dislocation will follow decapitation. A goose might flop around for up to two minutes. The same safety precautions that apply to cervical dislocation should be considered when using stunning and decapitation. This method is messy and forceful. Blood and brain tissue could be splattered. If dealing with a mammal, the splattering of contaminated brain tissue or saliva could expose you to the rabies virus. (Rabies is not a blood-borne disease.)

            Stunning and bleeding out (or “exsanguination”): the major blood vessels, usually those in the neck, are cut to rapidly drain blood from the body. This ensures death but is a messy and bloody technique.

            Advantages of these combination methods:

            • stunning the animal first ensures that it is unconscious
            • may make a situation safer for the NWCO and other people
            • may allow the NWCO to use a preferred killing method, such as shooting or a CO2 chamber, in a situation in which that method would otherwise be difficult to use
            • when properly done, these are fast and humane techniques that quickly break the brain-body connection
            • no specialized equipment necessary for some of the combined methods

            Disadvantages of these combination methods:

            • may bring your hands into direct contact with the animal’s head, which, if dealing with mammals, increases your risk of exposure to rabies
            • some of these techniques may disturb onlookers. Some are bloody. Animals often keep twitching for several seconds, or even minutes, after death. That’s not a sign of pain it’s a reflex
            • will likely have more of a mess to clean up (consider working over a tarp to contain the mess)
            • may require skill, speed, and strength

            Lethal techniques: Chest compression

            The goal of this method is to quickly stop the heart. This technique may be applied to small to medium-sized birds such as starlings or pigeons (but not diving birds) and small mammals (up to about 15 lbs., which includes animals the size of a young raccoon, or fox). Don’t attempt this technique on a larger mammal because you’d be unlikely to accomplish it in a timely and humane fashion. This is not a preferred technique for mammals ranging closer to the fifteen-pound limit, but it is acceptable, and may be your best option in some cases.

            Bring your thumb and forefinger of one hand under the bird’s wing from the back, and hold them against the bird’s ribs. Place the forefinger of your other hand against the bird’s breastbone (“sternum”) just below the spot where the “wishbone” forks. Squeeze your fingers together forcefully and hold the pressure to stop the heart.

            First, stun the animal between the eyes to make it unconscious. Then strike it again at the back of the head, which should be a lethal blow. Immobilize the animal by standing on its neck with one of your feet. Locate its heart, then compress the heart by standing on it.

            Advantages of chest compression:

            • when properly done, this is a fast technique
            • no specialized equipment necessary
            • may be one of the few practical options available in some situations

            Disadvantages of chest compression:

            Lethal techniques: Barbiturates

            These drugs, such as sodium pentobarbital, sedate and can kill animals by interfering with the central nervous system. Barbiturates are the drugs vets use to “put animals to sleep.” And that’s not a bad description of what it looks like, because they usually work smoothly. Animals must be well restrained for the injection.

            This isn’t a practical method for most NWCOs because they don’t have access to the drugs. Even DEC wildlife biologists and university researchers have difficulty securing barbiturates. These are dangerous drugs that can kill people, so their use is heavily regulated by the federal government. Only trained personnel registered with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (such as veterinarians) have access to barbiturates. You’d need a license, and in New York, also a certificate of need from the Department of Health to allow you to use hypodermic needles. There are strict security issues. And lots and lots of paperwork.

            There are two possible ways that a NWCO might be able to use this method. First, you could transport the nuisance animal to a veterinary clinic, so the vet can inject it with barbiturates. But is that a great choice? Consider how the capture and transportation could stress the animal—would this cancel out the advantages of the use of barbiturates? Would your customers pay fairly for this service?

            In rare cases, a NWCO partners with a veterinarian who agrees to supervise and take responsibility for the NWCO’s use of barbiturates in the field. This is a significant liability risk for the vet, so few are willing or able to offer this assistance.

            There are many practical limitations, because the NWCO must go to the vet’s office before going out on each job that requires the use of the drugs. The vet would give you the amount needed to kill that animal. Could you fit this into your schedule in any reasonable way?

            You must also consider how you’d dispose of the carcass, because barbiturates can persist in the animal’s body. A predator or scavenger that feeds on an animal that was killed by barbiturates might also die.

            Advantages of barbiturates:

            • one of the fastest and most reliable humane killing methods for small animals
            • a gentler process that causes minimal distress
            • because barbiturates sedate animals, they may make the handling of a dangerous animal safer
            • Although the unconscious animal may gasp right before death, the technique minimizes the thrashing sometimes seen with other killing methods

            Disadvantages of barbiturates:

            • these drugs are not available to most NWCOs
            • these drugs can kill people and other animals
            • you’d need to get close enough to the animal to use a dart gun or hypodermic and that may not be possible or safe
            • requires special training and additional permit
            • the drugs may persist in the carcass and affect any animal that feeds upon it

            Lethal techniques: Pesticides

            You’d need another license and would receive separate training in the safe and effective use of pesticides, so we won’t even try to summarize it here. There are relatively few pesticides available for the control of wildlife. Most are rodenticides, targeting such rodents as mice and the Norway rat. Fumigants and gas cartridges are registered in New York State to kill Norway rats, woodchucks, chipmunks, voles, and moles in their burrows. There are products, such as Avitrol®, registered for use on birds. Some details are shared in Appendix B. Remember, pesticide regulations and registrations change frequently, so always check for current information.

            Clean-up and disposal of dead animals, contaminated materials

            Most NWCOs do a certain amount of cleaning as part of their service. If the site presents a formidable mess, some NWCOs contract for cleaning separately while others recommend a service. Whether you do a little or a lot of cleaning on site, you’ll still need to clean your gear and your truck. Here’s a quick review. For more details, see chapter four.

            • Clean and disinfect your equipment with a disinfectant or a 10% chlorine bleach solution—one part bleach to nine parts water. Mix up a new batch each day. Never mix bleach and ammonia!—that forms a toxic gas. For the same reason, don’t apply bleach to bird droppings, which also contain ammonia.
            • Remember, if you’re working around bird, bat, or rodent droppings or nest materials, don’t stir up dust. Wear the proper safety gear. Use disinfectant to wet down anything that might have been contaminated, including any dead animals. Wipe up with a damp towel or sponge, or use a commercial, heavy-duty vacuum.
            • Cleaning up after raccoons is a bit trickier. The eggs of the parasite that causes raccoon roundworm are resistant to disinfectants. Areas of soil or concrete that have been contaminated can be flamed thoroughly, using a handheld propane torch (a weed burner). Turn the soil over, then flame it repeat this process a few times. Metal traps can also be flamed or you could opt to clean them with boiling water and bleach. To decontaminate a fireplace, woodstove, and chimney, build a roaring fire. Contaminated materials that can’t withstand burning should be cleaned with boiling water and bleach. This is a good option for wooden decks, porches, and contaminated clothing.
            • If you’re dealing with a mangy animal, clean anything that may have picked up mites, such as your clothing, equipment, or truck. The bleach solution is one option, or you can freeze objects, which will kill any mites.
            • To refresh your memory for safety protocols, here are the diseases you’re more likely to encounter when working with:
            • Birds: histoplasmosis
            • Bats: histoplasmosis, rabies
            • Rodents: hantavirus (squirrels often get mange)
            • Raccoons: rabies, raccoon roundworm, distemper
            • All of these species attract a variety of parasites, too. And although they don’t catch it as often, woodchucks, squirrels, and birds may suffer from raccoon roundworm. Any mammal can be infected with rabies.
            • Carcasses and other potentially contaminated materials (gloves, protective clothing, nesting materials) must be disposed of properly, because they can also spread diseases. In New York State, the Health Department may give you specific disposal instructions for animal carcasses, which you must follow. Otherwise, the animals and other materials may be buried, burned, or sent to a landfill.

            That takes care of health concerns, but most people won’t consider a place clean if it still reeks. Some NWCOs simply refer customers to commercial cleaning services. There are many commercial deodorizers that will eliminate wildlife odors. You’ll find details in the skunk account.

            One expensive machine, an ozone generator, has been marketed to NWCOs as a way to clean or purify air. Here’s what the EPA has to say about that. “Often the vendors of ozone generators make statements and distribute material that lead the public to believe that these devices are always safe and effective in controlling indoor air pollution. For almost a century, health professionals have refuted these claims… Ozone can cause health problems at high concentrations.” (the full report).

            Prickly Pear Cactus

            Prickly Pear Cactus Flowers

            Most prickly pear cactus have yellow, red or purple flowers, even among the same species. They vary in height from less than a foot (plains, hedgehog, tuberous) to 6 or 7 feet (Texas, Santa Rita, pancake). Pads can vary in width, length, shape and color. The beavertail, Santa Rita and blind pear are regarded as spineless, but all have glochids.

            Prickly Pear Cactus Information

            Prickly pear cactus represent about a dozen species of the Opuntia genus (Family Cactaceae) in the North American deserts. All have flat, fleshy pads that look like large leaves. The pads are actually modified branches or stems that serve several functions -- water storage, photosynthesis and flower production. Chollas are also members of the Opuntia genus but have cylindrical, jointed stems rather than flat pads.

            Like other cactus, most prickly pears and chollas have large spines -- actually modified leaves -- growing from tubercles -- small, wart-like projections -- on their stems. But members of the Opuntia genus are unique because of their clusters of fine, tiny, barbed spines called glochids. Found just above the cluster of regular spines, glochids are yellow or red in color and detach easily from the pads. Glochids are often difficult to see and more difficult to remove, once lodged in the skin.

            Prickly Pear Fruit - Tuna - with Glochids

            The fruits of most prickly pears are edible and sold in stores under the name "tuna." Prickly pear branches (the pads) are also cooked and eaten as a vegetable. They, too, are sold in stores under the name "Nopalito." Because of the glochids, great care is required when harvesting or preparing prickly pear cactus. Both the fruits and the pads of the prickly pear cactus are rich in slowly absorbed soluble fibers that may help keep blood sugar stable. Prickly pear nectar is made with the juice and the pulp of the fruits and is available from our online store.

            Range & Habitat

            Prickly pear cactus are found in all of the deserts of the American Southwest, with different species having adapted to different locale and elevation ranges. Most require coarse, well-drained soil in dry, rocky flats or slopes. But some prefer mountain pinyon/juniper forests, while others require steep, rocky slopes in mountain foothills.

            What is that white stuff on my cactus? Cochineal (an insect) is present in much of the lower elevations in the western United States and Mexico. It feeds almost solely on the pads of selected prickly pear cacti species. To find out more information and to see pictures of cochineal click here.

            There has been medical interest in the prickly pear plant. Some studies have shown that the pectin contained in the prickly pear pulp lowers levels of "bad" cholesterol while leaving "good" cholesterol levels unchanged. Another study found that the fibrous pectin in the fruit may lowers diabetics' need for insulin. Both fruits and pads of the prickly pear cactus are rich in slowly absorbed soluble fibers that help keep blood sugar stable. There are ongoing studies though at this point there are no proven results on humans. You can make your own study and see if works for you, which is the only test that really counts. More.

            Watch Video.

            In addition to the North American native prickly pear cactus listed below, there are many varieties, non-native imports and hybrids, so identification can often be difficult. Information on the 15 species listed below is based on wild, non-cultivated samples.

            15 Species of Prickly Pear Cactus

            Opuntia strigil

            Desert: Chihuahuan Desert
            Height: Up to 3 feet
            Pads: Small, oblong, yellow-green with short, colored spines
            Flowers: Cream-color
            Fruit: Small, bright red
            Elevation: 3,000-4,500 feet

            Opuntia basilaris

            Desert: Great Basin, Mojave, Sonoran
            Height: 12-18 inches
            Pads: Shaped like a beaver's tail, gray-green to 13 inches
            Flowers: Bright rose, 2-3 inches
            Fruit: Oval to 1.5 inches, gray -brown, dry at maturity with many seeds
            Elevation: 0-9,000 feet

            Opuntia rufida

            Desert: Chihuahuan near Big Bend, Texas
            Height: Up to 6 feet
            Pads: Circular, 6 inches, covered with velvety hairs and reddish glochids
            Flowers: Bright yellow, orange with age
            Fruit: Red and fleshy
            Elevation: 2,000-3,500 feet

            Opuntia phaeacantha

            Desert: Great Basin, Mojave, Sonoran and Chihuahuan
            Height: 2-3 feet
            Pads: Oblong, blue-green, 4-6 inches
            Flowers: Yellow, sometimes red at the base
            Fruit: Plump, juicy red or purple
            Elevation: 2,000-8,000 feet

            Opuntia engelmannii

            Desert: Sonoran and Chihuahuan
            Height: Up to 5 feet
            Pads: Blue-green, 12-inch circular or oblong
            Flowers: Yellow to peach with age
            Fruit: Large, juicy, reddish purple
            Elevation: 1,500-6,200 feet

            Opuntia erinacea

            Desert: Mojave, Great Basin
            Height: 12-18 inches
            Pads: Spiny, 5 inches
            Flowers: Bright yellow or rose
            Fruit: Very spiny
            Elevation: 1,500-7,500 feet

            Opuntia humifusa

            Desert: Great Basin, Mojave, Sonoran and Chihuahuan
            Height: Up to 2 feet
            Pads: Oval or round, 3-6 inches
            Flowers: Sulfur yellow with red base
            Fruit: Pear-shaped and hairless
            Elevation: 0-5,500 feet

            Opuntia phaeacantha

            Desert: Chihuahuan Desert
            Height: Up to 3.5 feet
            Pads: Green, 4-6 inches with downward spines
            Flowers: Bright yellow, 2 inches
            Fruit: Pear-shaped, reddish purple
            Elevation: 500-3,000 feet

            Opuntia chlorotica

            Desert: Mojave and Sonoran
            Height: Up to 7 feet
            Pads: Circular, bluish, arising from a thick, round trunk
            Flowers: Yellow with red centers
            Fruit: Fleshy, purple-gray
            Elevation: 2,000-6,000 feet

            Opuntia polycantha

            Desert: Great Basin, Mojave, Sonoran, Chihuahuan
            Height: 6-12 inches
            Pads: Oval, 3-4 inches, blue-green
            Flowers: Reddish-orange to yellow, 2.5 inches.
            Fruit: Very spiny, to 1.5 inches, tan and dry when ripe
            Elevation: 4,000-10,000 feet

            Opuntia violacea

            Desert: Chihuahuan
            Height: Up to 3.5 feet
            Pads: Oblong, bluish purple, with long black or white spines
            Flowers: Yellow with red centers
            Fruit: Oval to 1.5 inches, green
            Elevation: 3,000-5,500 feet

            Opuntia violacea

            Desert: Chihuahuan
            Height: Up to 6 feet
            Pads: Hairless lavender to purple
            Flowers: Lemon-yellow
            Fruit: Oval to 1.5 inches, green
            Elevation: 1,500-7,500 feet

            Opuntia spinosbacca

            Desert: Chihuahuan Desert, Big Bend, Texas
            Height: Up to 4 feet
            Pads: Elongated, yellow-green with orange spines
            Flowers: Yellow-orange with red bases
            Fruit: Spiny, fleshy, yellow-green
            Elevation: 2,000-3,000 feet

            Opuntia lindheimeri

            Desert: Chihuahuan
            Height: Up to 5.5 feet
            Pads: 10-inch oval with translucent yellow spines
            Flowers: Yellow
            Fruit: Purple with white top
            Elevation: 0-4,600 feet