DALLAS — Like most people who live near wildlife habitat, my wife and I are having a varmint problem in our yard. Range conditions are so dry that the only water available to raccoons, skunks and others is in town.
Biologists like Dale Rollins call these critters meso mammals, a term from the Greek word “mesos” meaning middle, center, or intermediate. In other words, meso mammals are not the top of the mammal food chain and they’re not the bottom — they’re in between.
As applied to skunks and raccoons in Texas, it might be more accurate to call them a “mess-o-mammals.” There’s a bunch of them, perhaps more than at any time in Texas history. In particular, the rural roads of Texas are littered with dead skunks and raccoons. If that many are run over by cars and they just keep coming, how many must there be in their decreasing habitat?
Nobody knows, but it’s a lot. I earned a new respect for coons when I bought a well-known brand of live trap to combat the varmint invasion. I had my sights set on a particular coon that I’d seen a couple of times. He’s full grown and is becoming a little too brazen.
I ordered the trap from a local hardware store. It’s specifically made for raccoons and has ingenious spring-loaded trapdoors on each end of a rectangular wire cage made from metal about the same gauge as cattle panel.
As per instructions on the box, I used cat food for bait. The next morning, I went out before daylight and shined my flashlight toward where I expected a captive raccoon to be cowering. Not only did I not see the caught coon — I didn’t even see the trap.
I found it 16 yards from where it had been set, jammed next to a chain link fence, but there was no coon. He’d probably moved the trap by rocking it to roll it over, time and again, until it was against the fence, leaving three pieces of the trap in his wake. He must have somehow used the fence for leverage and managed to disengage the trap door. I’d pay to watch him do it again.
Rollins wasn’t surprised by my story. In 1995, when game cameras were new, he and a student named Fidel Hernandez (now a quail researcher with Caesar Kleberg Wildlife Research Institute) used the new technology to identify which critters were destroying quail nests. The first cameras used film.
Rollins drove past a research site one day and noticed the camera was gone. He called Hernandez to see if he’d moved the camera and found he had not. A thorough search of the area turned up the camera about 50 yards from where the researchers had attached it to a tree. It was covered with muddy raccoon prints. The back was open and the film was stripped out.
“I reckon he was destroying the evidence,” said Rollins, who once described a coon-proof deer feeder as one that’s never had a game camera on it.
When my wife returned the raccoon trap to the hardware store to get her money back, the store manager said he’s already hearing reports of raccoons tearing up deer feeders.
One study done by CKWRI indicated 9.4 percent of corn and 9.8 percent of protein pellets intended for deer are actually eaten by raccoons. With hunters and deer managers buying 300 million pounds of corn and millions more pounds of protein pellets each year, it’s easy to see why these are the good old days for raccoons.
(c)2011 The Dallas Morning News
Visit The Dallas Morning News at www.dallasnews.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services