Plant it and they will come

No, not family, friends, or neighbors, although they may knock on your door to ask for food or flowers.

I am talking about “critters” at your gate.

A three-inch piece of watermelon was scratched out or bitten intact and then the flesh was eaten about five feet from the rest of the melon.

This week’s blog was going to be about seed catalog dreams, and encourage you to order early for fall, but then a large chunk of a watermelon disappeared from my garden yesterday. I wouldn’t be that concerned, but it wasn’t just small bits eaten away. A three-inch chunk was carried about five feet away and laid next to a fresh bird carcass. I realized this was no ground squirrel or rabbit.

I am studying evidence left by my backyard guest and will update you throughout the week, so SUBSCRIBE if you want to know when I post further information and serve an eviction notice.

WHICH CRITTER?

My oldest son Sean is an environmental biologist and he specializes in wildlife, so after the shock subsided last night, I called him and described what I found. The animal is omnivorous (eats fruits, vegetables, and meat) so it ruled out rabbits, gophers, and ground squirrels (herbivores) that populate my neighborhood. Strictly carnivorous animals like bobcats, eagles, and hawks also didn’t make the list. Coyotes are omnivorous when they are starving, but they prefer meat, so a coyote probably isn’t my visitor.

Sean suggested one of four omnivorous creatures that are found throughout the low desert Southwest that reflect the same habits my critter does:

  • Ringtail Cat
  • Raccoon
  • Skunk
  • Fox
A Ringtail Cat is Arizona’s state mammal. It is the size of a small domestic cat and very elusive.

A Ringtail Cat is Arizona’s state animal, so I guess a BB gun is out (not that I would be able to hit anything with one, nor would I want to). The Ringtail is the least invasive of the four. It is shy, averages only two to three pounds, which is important since I have two small dogs, and is reasonably harmless except that it has a sweet tooth, so it will gravitate toward garden fruit. It also eats small mammals, birds, and reptiles. It has rings around its tail, which is how it got its name. It has white around its eyes to reflect light and improve its eyesight, unlike the raccoon, which has black circles around its eyes. It is rarely seen because it will hide from people and other animals unless it is cornered or is rabid.

Raccoons are larger than most people think, often 20 pounds and about 36 inches long. They are fearless.

A raccoon, a large cousin to the Ringtail Cat, is 15-20 pounds and two-to-three feet long including its tail. I DO NOT want one of my dogs coming up against a raccoon. It has no fear and will attack large dogs and people. It has very strong teeth and paws that look like human hands – four fingers and a thumb. It loves to raid the trash cans and gardens.

Skunks are small but mighty. Their musty spray repels animals and people alike. They are carriers of rabies more often than any other mammal.

A skunk is dreaded if you have pets. Many pets just don’t seem to have the sense to stay away from them so pet owners often have to give their sprayed pets baths in shampoo mixes designed to remove the musky scent. I’d swear as I handled the half-eaten watermelon that I smelled skunk on it and then on my hands. I’m hoping it was just the power of suggestion. Out of the four, a raccoon is my worst fear but the skunk is a close second. The biggest threat of a skunk is that it is highly susceptible to the rabies virus. The striped skunk is the most frequently seen in the desert and weighs in at 2-to-10 pounds. It eats insects, small mammals, eggs, and plants.

The Gray Fox is the most common fox in the Sonoran Desert.

The low desert is home to two fox species: Gray Fox and Kit Fox. The Gray Fox’s body is gray (of course) with a dark face, and a reddish-brown stripe down its back. It can weigh up to 10 pounds and has a length of up to 40 inches. The Kit Fox is much smaller, weighing in at four to five pounds with a length of up to 36 inches. They both eat plants, small mammals, reptiles, and birds. The Kit Fox is strictly nocturnal, while the Gray Fox may also venture out in daylight.

 

 

The Kit Fox is very small, weighing only 4-5 pounds..

HOW WILL THIS END?

My hope is that it is a Ringtail Cat. It is somewhat harmless if you clean up after it and give it a respectful distance. It will munch on your garden, however, so encourage Ringtails to move on. They, like any wild animal, can transfer disease through their scat or urine. It is a great mouser if you are more concerned about mouse damage than the Ringtail Cat’s sweet tooth.

I am determined to find out what this is, so I bought a trail camera and attached it to a chair since I don’t have a large tree in the line of sight needed and set it about 25 feet from the partially eaten watermelon. I have the camera set to video, so if I capture anything, I’ll post it and we will discuss the options for serving an eviction notice to my backyard critter.

Stay tuned and subscribe for further blog notices!

Jknapp

I am a certified agriscape designer and Maricopa County Master Gardener. I have been gardening since I was six years old and worked in my grandfather's garden. I believe that the only way to be a responsible gardener is to garden organically. It improves our soil, is safer for us to eat, sustainable and it protects our pollinators and soil from chemical poisoning.