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LIVING WITH WILDLIFE

White-Tailed Squirrels Have a Family Tree

September 24, 2000|ANDREA KITAY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Question: For more than 35 years, my wife and I have enjoyed the antics of gray squirrels in our backyard. Recently we noticed the addition of three more, except they have white tails. The way they play together indicates they are from the same family. We're familiar with the Olney white squirrels. What do you think about these white-tailed squirrels?

--B.R.

Woodland Hills

Answer: For readers unacquainted with the Olney squirrels, according to the records they're the descendants of a single pair of albino gray squirrels set free in Olney, Ill., in the early 1900s. The descendants now number in the thousands.

Although gray squirrels, both eastern and western, can have any number of color variations, and some western ones do have white tail markings, it sounds as if yours have a unique trait specific to their family.

The most likely scenario to explain the appearance of these white-tailed squirrels in your backyard is that a new squirrel with a family predilection for the genetic trait has bred with one of your group and these are its offspring. Their behavior does sound as if the white-tailed ones are siblings.

That a new squirrel was introduced into the existing "family" is not unusual. In late summer, the year's young often leave the mother's territory to establish their own.

Ant-Proofing Your Hummingbird Feeder

Q: One quick easy tip to keep ants away from the bird feeder is to coat the vertical hanger with ordinary vegetable oil from your kitchen. Ants can't get a grip on it, so they move on.

Another important note when installing your first hummingbird feeder: It is important to use the red nectar only until it has attracted the hummingbirds. The red coloring is harmful to hummingbirds and can damage their systems. Once hummingbirds know where the feeder is, they will keep coming back, and you should use a clear nectar of only sugar and water.

J.C.

Via e-mail

A: Whether the addition of red food coloring to sugar water is harmful to hummingbirds seems to be a matter of debate. So, fill the feeder with a simple 4:1 water-sugar mixture heated to boiling, then left to cool, from the start. You can also help attract hummingbirds by making sure the feeder itself is red (they are drawn to red) and landscaping with red-flowering plants like scarlet salvia, pink petunia and scarlet morning glories. If your feeder is old and faded, attaching a red ribbon to the feeder will help.

As for the vegetable oil: I've heard from many readers about keeping ants out of the feeder using home remedies, including smearing Vaseline, cooking oil, motor oil and liquid dishwashing soap on the wire leading from the branch to the feeder itself. Though these may save a buck, they should be avoided. Birds can inadvertently brush their feathers against the oily substances, and they can't clean it off.

Stick with the ant guards and other ant-proofing devices.

Making Raccoons and Fleas Unwelcome

Q: I discovered that a raccoon has taken up residence in the crawl space of my home for a number of weeks. I believe it moved on, but left me with a massive flea infestation around and in my home.

I bombed my home twice, had the carpet steamer in the next day, lobbed a bomb in the crawl space and had to call an exterminator twice to destroy the fleas on the perimeter of my home in a heavily wooded neighborhood.

Nothing has worked. I am at my wits' end. Help.

B. M.

Los Angeles

A: A flea goes through several life stages, first as an egg, next as a legless larva and as a pupa, then through several stages to become an adult. In this stage, the pre-emergent adult form is protected from pesticides. If the bombs were 100% effective, which I doubt, you're probably suffering with the recently emerged adults.

It's widely held that three things will cause an adult to emerge from its cocoon: mechanical depression, an increase in temperature and vibrations. So by steam-cleaning the day following the treatment, you actually hastened their emergence. And if you have no pets, the fleas will always seem worse, because their natural hosts--dogs and cats--aren't present. You are the primary target.

Also, bombs are not always effective or safe because the pesticide goes only where it lands. It probably missed a whole lot of places in both your house and the crawl space. If that's the case, you'll need to re-treat, but forget the bombs this time.

Your choices are to go with either a traditional pest control company that will use an insect growth regulator or an alternative treatment. In either case, you should probably find someone who will take the time to get all the way under the crawl space to determine where the raccoon was sleeping and treat that area in particular.

You may also have to continue to treat the yard on a regular basis because it's conceivable the raccoon is still around. Pick up any traces of pet food and secure your garbage cans. Make it unappealing for the raccoon to visit your house.

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