CARS HOMES JOBS

Plenty of pests? Mild winter may be to blame

Thursday, October 18, 2012
Text Size: A | A

Last year’s mild winter and a bumper crop of nuts have caused an apparent explosion in the squirrel population in patches of the country, bewildering fruit growers with their ravenous appetites, littering highway shoulders as roadkill and keeping homeowners and pest control experts busy. This squirrel was seen on Cemetery Road in Schuylerville.
Photographer: Marc Schultz
Last year’s mild winter and a bumper crop of nuts have caused an apparent explosion in the squirrel population in patches of the country, bewildering fruit growers with their ravenous appetites, littering highway shoulders as roadkill and keeping homeowners and pest control experts busy. This squirrel was seen on Cemetery Road in Schuylerville.

— Guard your attics and your apples — the squirrels seem bolder this year.

“It’s worse than last year,” said Mike Murauskas, who owns Independent Pest Management and has been in the pest removal business for 20 years.

He’s gotten some recent calls for flying squirrels in people’s attics in the northern part of his territory, which covers the region surrounding Saratoga Springs and Glens Falls.

And on Wednesday he worked at a house with a double whammy — problems with gray squirrels and mice.

During a previous visit there, Murauskas noticed a lot of black walnuts on the ground that had dropped from trees. On Wednesday, most were gone, presumably because rodents had stashed them away for winter.

He’ll likely see them again when he finds the animals’ hiding spot.

“You’ll find their food cache,” he said.

The late summer and fall also may have brought more hungry squirrels to farms in northern Saratoga County and Vermont.

Nate Darrow, owner of Saratoga Apple, saw more apples on his trees this year that had been bitten by tiny mouths.

“There’s a lot of discussion among growers about them,” he said. In addition

to owning the orchard in the town of Saratoga, Darrow has a business interest in a Vermont orchard, where the squirrels were even worse than here.

“There’s been a terrible problem with squirrels biting apples,” he said, though he admits it’s hard to tell the type of animal just from the bite. “When a squirrel bites an apple, [the bite] looks remarkably like a mouse or a rat.”

The bitten apples must be discarded; Darrow doesn’t even use them for cider.

He speculated that fewer acorns led to more of the squirrels seeking food in his orchard. But a state Department of Environmental Conservation spokeswoman said it’s actually the opposite — there was an increase in natural food.

Wendy Rosenbach said the mild winter boosted trees’ production of acorns and hickory nuts. But DEC doesn’t know whether the squirrel population has increased, because it estimates the population based on hunters’ harvest after squirrel hunting season ends.

For those who enjoy that sport, it started in September and ends Feb. 28.

The bushy-tailed critters may appear numerous now because they’re out collecting food.

“It seems like every year at this time they’re out going crazy gathering their nuts,” said Mike Greenslade, manager of Saratoga Spa State Park.

The bad news for homeowners is the squirrel problem may only be just beginning, because squirrels usually wait until it’s colder than it is now to break into attics and houses, Murauskas said.

An even bigger pest now is mice, which move indoors earlier than squirrels.

“There’s a very brisk mousetrap business,” said Joe Redding, seasonal buyer for Allerdice Hardware in Saratoga Springs.

Although fall is always the season when people find mice indoors, this year appears to be worse than usual, he said.

Recently, squirrels have been in the news for a more alarming reason. A 7-year-old Colorado girl contracted bubonic plague in late August and has since recovered. Officials believe she got it from fleas that jumped to her from a dead squirrel.

Also, a squirrel in California tested positive last week for the bacteria that causes bubonic plague in humans.

 
Share story: print print email email facebook facebook reddit reddit

comments

Log-in to post a comment.
 

columnists & blogs


Log into Dailygazette.com

Forgot Password?

Subscribe

Username:
Password: