Bobcats Eat Venomous Snakes

Venomous snakes aren’t bad or evil. Like all other animals, they have an important role to play in our ecosystem. Among other things, snakes help to control populations of rats and mice. This in turn helps reduce the incidence of diseases these rodents might carry.

Nevertheless, you probably don’t want venomous snakes living too close to your house. While fatal bites are extremely rare, they do happen occasionally. This is one of the many reasons that bobcats can be useful neighbors to have around!

Bobcats are some of nature’s most fearless predators, making them one of the few native creatures bold enough to kill and eat venomous snakes. And bobcats are even less likely than venomous snakes to harm humans. No human has ever died of a bobcat attack! Letting your bobcat neighbor stick around is one of many ways you can keep your family (and your neighborhood ecosystem) safe and healthy for all.

Rice-Like Grains on Wild Animals are an Emergency

Ok, we know this is weird, but knowing this not-so-fun fact can save an animal’s life!

If you ever see a wild animal and it has what appear to be grains of rice stuck on its body, that’s a do-not-pass-go, do-not-collect-$200 emergency in need of a rehabilitator.

Get ready for some nightmare fuel: those rice-like grains are actually fly eggs, and they’re a sign that an animal is very close to death. Eggs may be laid inside an open wound, in the animal’s mouth or rectum, in the critter’s eyes, or sometimes simply on their flesh. Flies don’t only lay their eggs on dead flesh, but may also choose an animal because it is weak or dirty due to being sick orphan. When they hatch, the maggots quickly start consuming the animal, and it’s a particularly horrific way to pass.

Some people ignore fly eggs when they see them, either because they don’t know what they are or because they believe maggots will “clean” a wound. While so-called maggot therapy has been used in clinical environments to debride injuries in humans, the grim reality is that maggots can and do kill animals rather than just benignly cleaning them up.

If you find a critter with rice-like grains on its body, please immediately help if it’s safe for you to do so. Put the animal somewhere dark, warm, and quiet and contact a rehabilitator for further assistance.

Tennessee Coyotes: Natural Mutts

Happy National Mutt Day! Did know that coyotes in Tennessee (and everywhere else east of the Mississippi River) are naturally-occurring mutts?

After humans killed off most of the red wolves and gray wolves that once dominated North American forests, wolves were left with so few available mates that they had no choice but to cross-breed with dogs and coyotes. Coyotes slowly migrated from the Western U.S. to fill the gaps in the ecosystem left by the loss of our original apex predators. As newcomers, they also had few mates available and adapted by seeking out dogs and wolves as mates.

Most coyotes in Tennessee aren’t the result of recent hybrids. Their last dog and wolf ancestors were usually 10-30 generations ago. But dogs and wolves had enough influence on our local coyotes that you can see their “mutt” nature in their size, behavior, and coloration. For example, this beautiful girl, who was a patient at For Fox Sake, weighed over 40 pounds, which is over twice the size of a female Western coyote, and her markings were wolf-like. Coyotes here in Tennessee are also more social, and more likely to hunt in groups, than their Western cousins, which tend to be solitary hunters.

Aren’t our local wild animals amazing? We’d love to see your photos of mutts, both coyote and domestic!

Oops! Opossums Don’t Actually Eat Ticks

We goofed.

Like many organizations, we’ve spent several years claiming that opossums eat a large number of ticks, and that they help to combat the spread of tickborne illness. We had fact-checked our information— we always do!— and claims about opossums as tick-eaters were supported by credible sources like the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies and the National Wildlife Federation.

But environmental science and zoology are ever-evolving fields, and new research emerges constantly about the role that native animals do, and don’t, play in North America’s web of life. It’s turns out that the newest, best research disproves the claims we’ve been making about opossums’ role in reducing tick populations.

Scientists at Eureka College analyzed the stomach contents of 32 wild opossums and couldn’t find any ticks, tick larvae, or tick body parts. They also looked into the findings from 23 similar studies and found no evidence that opossums eat a significant number of ticks. So it turns out that this whole tick-eating thing was incorrect.

We admit that it’s tempting to keep repeating misinformation without correcting ourselves. After all, the belief that opossums eat tons of ticks has tremendously improved the way people perceive them, and has encouraged a lot of people to rethink their desire to harm them. But we believe that truth matters, and that we have a responsibility to correct ourselves after perpetuating misinformation.

While opossums don’t really eat a lot of ticks, they still matter, and they still deserve our love and respect. Opossums are miracles of the natural world, and have survived nearly unchanged since they shared the planet with dinosaurs. They consistently score high on intelligence tests despite having what appear to be very primitive brains. They are naturally resistant to rabies and most snake venoms. They help keep the world clean by eating large amounts of decaying animal matter and rotting fruit. While they may not be the tick-vacuums we thought they were, our world wouldn’t be the same without them.

Please continue to respect opossums for their role in the natural world, but accept our apologies for the role we played in the spread of incorrect information about their diets.

Snapping Turtles Aren’t Dangerous

Lots of people are terrified of snapping turtles. We get calls throughout the summer from people who want snapping turtles relocated, or even killed, because they’re afraid that these peaceful dinosaurs will eat their kids or pets. But a snapping turtle in your yard isn’t anything to worry about!

Snapping turtles don’t eat kids or pets. They almost exclusively feed in the water on fish, crayfish, and aquatic insects and don’t have any reason to try to eat a toddler. We certainly don’t recommend letting your Yorkie lick a snapping turtle’s face or sending your toddler outside to play with one, but snapping turtles prefer to be left alone and aren’t going to go out seeking humans or pets to eat.

In the unlikely event that you provoke a snapping turtle and get bitten, their bite isn’t nearly as bad as you expect, averaging about 200 Newtons of force. By comparison, if you were to bite something with your second molars, you can easily exceed 1,200 Newtons.

You may have seen videos of people intentionally provoking snapping turtles into biting thick sticks or broom handles with scary-looking results. Keep in mind, when watching these, that these people are provoking the snapping turtles very deliberately, often repeatedly, and that the only results that make it to YouTube are the ones that look shocking. Disappointing videos of snapping turtles nipping at the stick and trying to be left alone never go viral.

If you’re fortunate enough to have a snapping turtle as your neighbor, please leave it alone! There is no habitat for it better than the one it has already chosen, and it has a right to exist in its home just as much as you have a right to exist in yours. Please give your turtle neighbor the space and respect it needs.

Native Bird Nests are Legally Protected

We received a frustrating— and all-too-common— call yesterday. After barn swallows chose an apartment complex in Red Bank to raise their young, management hired a crew to pressure-wash the nests away, resulting in the deaths of many innocent baby birds. The few survivors were picked up by a caring tenant, who we referred to a songbird specialist.

Folks, this isn’t okay, and it happens all the time. Songbird populations all over the country are plumetting and we all have an obligation to do our part to prevent it. Sometimes that means growing a pair and dealing with some poop or unsightly nests for a few weeks while babies grow up.

Native birds are, at worst, a temporary inconvenience. Most people enjoy seeing and hearing birds and watching them raise their young. Aside from being cruel and illegal, killing a bunch of baby birds is also not a good way to keep your tenants happy. If you’re a landlord or business owner and have tenants or customers complaining about native bird nests, simply inform them that the nests are protected by federal law and that you’ll remove them when the babies have left the nests. No big deal!

We’re asking all of our supporters to help us protect native birds. If you know of a property owner or maintenance company that is destroying active native songbird nests or killing adult or baby birds, please report them to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at 1-800-344-WILD or fws_tips@fws.gov.

Wildlife Rehabbers Can‘t Help Domestic Animals

We wildlife rehabbers love animals of all kinds! We understand how upsetting and frustrating it can be if your dog is hurt and you can’t afford a vet, or if your canary escaped, or if your cow rejects her calf, or if your chicken has to be tube fed. But as much as we’d love to be able to help in these situations, these are outside the scope of services that wildlife rehabilitators provide.

We and our colleagues have heard some, uh, interesting accusations when we’ve informed folks about this limitation. Mostly, “You must not really care about animals.” A rehabilitator we know was even physically threatened after having to turn away a pet domestic pigeon— yikes! There are lots of reasons rehabilitators don’t take pets or livestock, and we promise that hating animals isn’t one of those reasons.

The main reason rehabilitators don’t accept pets or livestock is legal. It’s simply not in the scope of what we’re licensed to do or what our nonprofit charters include. When our supporters donate to help native wildlife, they expect and deserve for their funds to be used appropriately— not for them to be used to provide veterinary care for pets or livestock. If a wildlife rehabilitator practiced veterinary medicine without a license and misappropriated funds, that would (and should!) be grounds to lose their licensing and to have legal consequences.

There also just aren’t enough hours in the day for rehabilitators to save domestic animals while also caring for wildlife. Most of us operate with a full patient load throughout “baby season” and can’t make room or time for domestic animals. We’d love to save every animal on Earth, but that’s not a realistic goal, so we have to work within our own respective focuses.

The good news is that there are hundreds of thousands of rescues and shelters for domestic animals, and most counties and cities (including ours) also have municipal animal control facilities. These organizations do work just as important as ours and are equipped, licensed, and funded so they can help with situations involving domestic animals in distress. If you need help with a domestic animal, please contact a rescue in your area so the critter can get the assistance it needs. But, if you find a wild animal that needs help, we’ll be happy to assist!

Happy World Snake Day

July 16 is World Snake Day

It’s World Snake Day! 🎉 🐍

We love the sneks, danger noodles, and noperopes of the world and have had the honor of rehabilitating two of them (and also hosting several wild noodles on our properties)! This fellow, Raphael, was a kingsnake admitted earlier this year after being tangled in garden netting and getting himself hurt. He recovered and was released back to the wild.

Humans are predisposed to instinctively fear snakes. It’s a survival mechanism that helped our ancestors avoid their venom without being able to identify their species. While that instinctive fear may have benefited us, our collective fear of snakes has unfortunately led to harm all over the world. Snakes are often killed simply for being snakes, and it hurts both them and us.

We need snakes! Without them, our planet would be overrun with rats and mice, and the parasites and diseases they often carry. We’d see rates of diseases like plague and Lyme disease skyrocket and we’d have more damage to our homes. Snakes are naturally shy and elusive, so we often don’t appreciate that we have them living right in our own backyards acting as a free pest control service. If you kill the snake that’s keeping your home pest-free, you’ll likely end up with a bigger problem!

Please have respect for all the creatures who share our planet and our neighborhoods. If you see a snake, please let it be!

Skunks Spray at Death— Killing them Won’t Help

Common sense isn’t always common. 🤦 So many of our skunk patients this year were orphaned when their mothers were killed by people who didn’t want themselves or their pets sprayed. And of course, most of the people who killed the mother skunks got sprayed while doing it.

Being sprayed by a skunk isn’t the end of the world. It happens here daily at For Fox Sake during baby season and isn’t a big deal. The only impact it has had on my life is that people tend to assume I’m a “smoker” when I go out in public smelling musky. 🤷 But even if you’re so afraid of skunk smells that you think it’s worth an animal’s life, killing them isn’t the answer!

Anyone who’s driven past a deceased skunk on the road knows that skunks usually spray when they die. This sometimes happens because of fear when they try to defend themselves against a person (or pet, or vehicle) and sometimes happens reflexively during or after death. If you shoot, trap, or beat a skunk, you’re going to end up getting sprayed. And you’re also a jerk for doing it, and yes, we’re judging you for it.

A few people avoid the risk of getting sprayed by poisoning skunks rather than shooting or trapping them, but that’s not a solution either. Poison is a terrible way to die, and a poisoned skunk will still usually release musk while it dies. Do you really want to be left with the job of cleaning up a rotting, musky skunk when the unfortunate critter goes under your deck to die? We promise it smells much worse than a live, healthy skunk.

Please learn to coexist with your wild neighbors! But if you do have a skunk family on your property and they’re causing damage, turn to humane methods to encourage them to find an alternative den. Close up all entry points to your home and crawl space. Strong smells like ammonia and Vicks Vaporub tend to be very off-putting to skunks and will also help convince them to leave, and keeping a flashlight or electric lantern on will also discourage them. Killing isn’t the answer.

All About Cooters

After we admitted Opal, our second river cooter patient, we saw a lot of incredibly immature, suggestive, and even offensive comments.

We loved all of them.

Yes, there really are turtles called cooters. That’s their actual name. Tennessee has tons of cooters. Specifically, we’re home to the subspecies known as the Eastern river cooter. It’s a big wet cooter that lives, as the name suggests, mostly in rivers, though it sometimes shows up in lakes and marshes.

River cooters are members of the pond turtle family and are close relatives of pond sliders, map turtles, painted turtles, and (believe it or not!) box turtles. Unlike many of their relatives, cooters are pretty strictly herbivorous and eat mostly algae and other aquatic plants. They help maintain a balanced ecosystem by preventing algae blooms from getting out of hand, which can— if left unchecked— cause whole ecosystems to collapse. We’ve found that our coolers also love flower petals and chopped fruit as treats.

Cooters are in trouble! While they’re not considered to be endangered yet, their populations are declining as a result of habitat loss, pollution, and traffic. These very slow beauties often get hit by cars while crossing roads in search of cleaner habitats or places to lay eggs. Please brake for cooters! If you see a cooter in the road, please help it by carrying it across in the direction it’s already going and then leaving it alone. Never kidnap a cooter from the wild! They require spacious, well-maintained habitats and need to stay in nature where they belong.

Like and share if you love cooters! We sure do!

Don’t Give Breast Milk to Wild Animals

Yes, this is apparently necessary to say. 🤦🏻‍♂️ Every wildlife rehabilitator has at least one story about a baby animal that arrived critically sick after being fed human breast milk. And yes, some people have fed it right from the tap. 😳

Breast is best— as in, human breast milk is best for human babies, raccoon milk is best for raccoon babies, opossum milk is best for opossum babies,
cow’s milk is best for cow babies, and almond milk, presumably, is best for almond babies.

Each mammal’s milk has the exact ratio of fats, sugars, electrolytes, enzymes, bacteria, and proteins made for its own young. When the real deal isn’t an option for a baby of any species, the next-best thing is an appropriate formula, NOT the milk of another species!

There is no wild animal in North America that can thrive on human milk. Human milk is only one-quarter as concentrated as skunk milk, for example, and is too watery to meet their needs. Human breast milk contains only one tenth the amount of protein that a baby raccoon needs to survive, and it has twice the amount of lactose that baby opossums can tolerate. The result of the wrong milk can mean diarrhea, kidney failure, metabolic bone disease, low blood sugar, and even death.

Please don’t do this! If you have extra breast milk, please consider donating it to a milk bank at your local hospital, and if you have a baby animal that needs help, please contact a rehabilitator as quickly as possible.

And, for the sake of everyone’s sanity, please never attach an animal to your nipple. That’s really weird and we really didn’t need those photos.