All About Marie

Animal Files columnist of the Orange County Register from 1992-2016; Emmy Award winning producer of Educational Television Programming; Host of "The Pet Place Radio Show" heard world-wide at; click the player below to listen. Producer/Director/Editor/Co-host of "The Pet Place TV Show" during the 19 years it ran on KDOC TV in Los Angeles and Orange Counties; Wife, Mother of five kids, Grandmother of two baby boys and one baby girl, and pet parent of two cats, one dog, many fish, and a cockatoo.

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Thursday, February 6, 2014

Skunks, Raccoons, and Opossums...oh my!

Dear Marie:

Lately, I have been finding small holes dug out in my front yard, combined with what appears to be animal droppings in the damaged area.  I have not seen any animals in the yard, but I am reasonably certain that some small animal is responsible for the holes.  I live in a part of the city that is surrounded by busy streets and buildings.  Therefore, I cannot imagine a wild animal being in this area, other than a gopher or a rat; but I did not think they created this type of damage.  Can you advise me about what this animal might be and what I can do to discourage its “activities”
in my yard?

Puzzled in Orange

Dear Puzzled:

The “yard problem” you are experiencing is not at all uncommon.   In fact, many Orange County residents, especially those with lush lawns, have described similar difficulties with local wildlife. 

You are also not alone in mistakenly believing that wild animals, other than the small mammals you mentioned, live far away from the hustle and bustle of urban communities.  But in actuality, our cities are teaming with wildlife, from coyotes, to snakes, to skunks.  The latter is a potential suspect for the holes in your lawn.

Skunks, along with opossums and raccoons, will scout out neighborhoods in search of thick lawns and the moist soil underneath.  These very intelligent and adaptable animals are searching for the small grub worms and other insects that live at or under the root level of the grass or other ground cover you may have.  Normally, they make coin sized holes about an inch or two deep.  The holes can be spaced relatively close together, or far apart, depending on what the animals find. 

The solution is relatively simple.  Eliminate the food source.  Natural, non-toxic pesticides may be used throughout your yard to kill the insects in the soil.  Talk to nursery staff to find out what product would meet your needs. 

After using the pesticide, it might take a few days to notice the effects.  Since the animals realize there is no more food available at your home, they will move on.  Remember, you must continue lawn and garden pest control from this point forward, otherwise a new family of “diggers” will begin the cycle again. 

Unfortunately, many homeowners in your predicament will resort to trapping the opportunistic animals.  I have heard stories from some disheartened residents who have paid private trappers upwards of $100.00 for each animal trapped on their property, and they still have nuisance animals roaming about after the final bill has been paid.

The reason for this is simple.  Animals seek out homes with ample food, water, and shelter.  If the animal is removed but the environment remains the same, an attractive niche is available to any other animal that discovers it.  In most cases, other animals are aware of the occupied niche and are more than ready to move in if the current resident animal suddenly “disappears.”

It is important to note that insects may not be the only food source an animal might be interested in.  Pet food left outside, accessible trash, fallen fruit, and homegrown vegetables also provide skunks and other animals with the sustenance they require.  If all unnatural food sources contained in residential areas are eliminated, wildlife “problems” are greatly reduced.   Sometimes, this takes a neighborhood effort.  Be creative...invite your neighbors over to discuss skunks!  You’ll be surprised at the terrific brainstorming that can take place by working together.   Good Luck!

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