The Southern Home Bestuary: Living with our critter friends and enimies.

The Mystery of the Black Dots
September 24, 2009, 7:33 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Small flesh-eating beetles        Harmless          These too will pass  

 As a child I slept with my toys and pets, as a man I slept with my wife now, as an aging widower, I prefer to sleep alone. In recent weeks I found that I had new bed partners in the way of black elongate dots that appeared to be fecal pellets from something being dropped from my fiberboard false ceiling.


Flesh-eating beetles on a marble top - about one per square inch.

Flesh-eating beetles on a marble top - about one per square inch.

 Closer inspection with a 10-power hand lense revealed that these were actually small brown beetles. A call to Clemson University’s  “Bug Guys” elicited the opinion that these were likely members of a large group of undistinguished small beetles that were food specific. Among these were cigarette beetles, those that fed on fur and others that were carrion feeders. They postulated that I had a dried dead rat somewhere, and the insects were feeding and raising their young on it.

  As readers of previous posts will recall, I did have a problem with wood rats; and one had apparently died in the walls of the house or in the false ceiling. I had the ceiling panels taken down and that area cleaned. No rat was found. I used another “bug bomb,” and hoped for the best.

 No luck. I have still have them, but in fewer numbers. Ultimately they will exhaust their food supply and, having accomplished their biological function, will die out.  As they eat only dead flesh, I have no fear of being eaten alive in my bed, although this would make an interesting plot for a short story.

  The moral here is to always make your bed. You never know what may crawl, or fly, between the sheets with you.


Ticks, common, sometimes deadly, parasites
September 6, 2009, 9:10 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Ticks & Fleas   Obnoxious, sometimes deadly     Repell       Exclude      Remove

  Blood-sucking parasites are not among most people’s favorite creatures. Ticks are considered frequently considered so disgusting that they are not

A few of thousands of ticks on an African Cape Buffalo.

A few of thousands of ticks on an African Cape Buffalo.

 mentioned in “polite society,” as if ignoring them would make them go away. This is unfortunately not so.

 The Southern woods are filled with ticks and every woodland animal will host them. Some ticks are specific to a group of animals, but some species will try us out too. This is where the problem lies because viruses carried on the tick’s mouth parts can infect us. The “star” tick, for example, is the vector for Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. and deer ticks carry Lyme Disease.

  Sometimes dangerous bites can be administered by tiny “seed” ticks that are about the size of a grain of sand. Once, on an African hunt, I was covered by hundreds of them. In Georgia a friend, who was a surveyor, died as a result of massive number of bites. I know of others who have had long debilitating diseases of the muscular and nervous systems from tick bites.

 I have had African Tick Fever which was promptly treated with a powerful antibiotic. This particular tick nailed me under the watch band. Lyme disease is transferred by deer ticks. As I commonly hunt and skin deer I wear clothing that has ankle ties and frequently wash and inspect myself. Very often I can feel the larger ones crawling on my skin and remove them.

 DEET containing repellents work and are a general preventative. Mechanically removing them from your dogs will also make them more comfortable. I drop the ticks into a rubbing alcohol-water solution. For those on me, I usually use a knife blade and pressing the tick against the blade slowly pull until it releases. I then disinfect the bite site with alcohol. If the bite area does not quickly heal, it is prudent to consult a physician and get started on antibiotics. Most tick diseases are relatively easy to treat at the outset, but may be very difficult to treat once neurological or other symptoms develop.

Fleas on dogs, cats and us
August 24, 2009, 7:42 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Fleas                                   Obnoxious                               Control populations

 The common black dog flea is not only causes my dogs to be

"I got fleas. You got fleas. All God's chillen got fleas," Persiphone.

"I got fleas. You got fleas. All God's chillen got fleas," Persiphone.

miserable throughout much of the summer months, but are particularly troublesome when they move inside. One obvious solution is to not let dogs into the house, but I will have my dogs in with me, fleas or not. We battle these things together.

 The most effective thing to use inside a house is a canned flea spray designed for area treatment. There are room foggers, but this puts the poison on all surfaces and much is waisted because the fleas only live in the carpet and near floor areas.  It also helps to vacuum prior to spraying and twice a week during the summer. All interior dog beddings are washed once a week.

 Outside fleas hide in dry soils and grasses and jump onto the dogs, and people, as they walk by. A good test is to go outside wearing a set of light colored trousers and do an inventory on the numbers of fleas you have sticking to the lower parts of your trousers. Outside areas can be sprayed by any pest-control firm, but there must also be a simultaneous treatment of both the house and the dogs.

 My hounds, actually mixed-breed Labs, do not much enjoy their treatments with “eu de flea spray.”  As I apply it I comb it through their fur which increases the probability of it contacting, and killing, any adult fleas.  After an initial treatment, it is usually necessary during the summer months to repeat the interior, exterior  and dog treatment cycle again in about two weeks.

 Topically applied anti-flea preparationsthat are applied about every 30 days ( they  last only about 20-days on my dogs)  help, but they can be overwhelmed if the in-house and outside flea populations are high. If your pet commonly has blood-red granular “dirt” (actually dried blood)  next to the skin, the fleas are there and breeding on him.   

 Spraying or bathing the dogs, by itself, gives them temporary releaf; but they quickly pick up another population of fleas the instant they go outside.

 To reduce the number of flea bites on you, the best preventative is to always wear socks. An easy way to trap fleas is to take a piece of strapping tape, stick them on it and then fold it over. Fleas are strong. They will often escape if not stuck on both sides.

Red wasps in the eaves
August 24, 2009, 7:08 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Red or Paper wasp   Sometimes deadly    Remove from conflict areas

 The red wasp is common throughout the Southeastern U.S. This is a

A nest full of large agressive red wasp inside a shed.

A nest full of large agressive red wasp inside a shed.

paper wasp in that it builds paper nests in dry protected spots such as under the eves of houses and anywhere  they have protection from wind-driven rain. These nests can be huge and may contain more than a hundred individuals, although all start with a single pair of wasps.

 As more nesting cells are added and the larvae hatch new cells are added throughout the growing season until first frosts when the adults are killed and the eggs in the cells are dormant. As they pupate they feed on insects (these may be spiders or caterpillars, depending on the species). Any spell of warm weather during the winter brings on a hatch, and this can kill an entire colony if repeated warmings and chillings cause premature hatching.

 Red wasps are particularly aggressive if their nest are disturbed and with chase and sting anything nearby. This is particularly troublesome for those who are allergic to ant, wasp and bee stings as this causes restrictions of breathing and can result in death. For such individuals, it is vital to have an antivenom kit on hand and rush to the nearest emergency room. The kits have a limited shelf life, so check their expiration dates at least every year. Each year people die from stings.

 A good preventative is to never reach where you cannot see. Nonetheless any person who is actively doing things around a southern farm is likely to be bitten once every few years.

 Canned sprays are available for wasp that may project for several feet. These will kill wasps the colony and cause any remaining survivors to relocate their nest.

Hot toad in the old town
July 21, 2009, 8:56 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

  Toads and frogs                       Move out of harm’s way

 With the spring rains, we had an unusually large crop of new toads

Toad warming on the edge of a burn pile.

Toad warming on the edge of a burn pile.

and frogs. One of the more common is a large toad that grows to be almost three-inches long. They have a hard time getting by in dry weather, but burrow deep into the ground to escape the heat and come out after dark. They manage to survive by taking insects after dark and on dew droplets.

  Like reptiles, toads like their creature comforts. This was illustrated to an unusual degree when one of my medium-sized yard toads approached my burn pile. Only a few hours before flames had been 12-feet high, and the heat was so intense that you could not stand within ten yards of the blaze. There was still a bed of very hot coals in the center of the pile.

  I noticed a toad hopping up onto the pile. I moved him off only to find that he soon returned. Some how he apparently knew how close he could get without becoming a toad crisp. For as long as the burn pile was warm, he apparently enjoyed the heat. I don’t know if all toads are this hedonistic, but this one was.

Whitetail Deer
June 25, 2009, 3:15 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Whitetail deer         Thin numbers during season         Consume

Thinning deer provides good eats and helps the environment.

Thinning deer provides good eats and helps the environment.

  Eating away at almost anything in the surburiban landscape, whitetailed deer are increasingly raising the ire of homeowners not only as shrub, plantings and garden destroyers but as a real hazzard to drivers. Each year there are over 1,000,000 accidents reported in the U.S. from deer-vehicle strikes and approximately 10,000 injuries and 100 deaths. Other negatives include the facts that deer ticks are vectors that may carry Lyme disease and rut-crazed bucks can, and have, attacked people.

  While most people don’t take such a radical view as to want  all deer  dead,  there is a need to control populations in confined or densely populated areas where large numbers of adverse deer-people encounters may be expected. For me a hunter, the obvious answer is to shoot a few every hunting season and consume them. I am fortunate that I live such a distance from anyone that I may use bows, crossbows or firearms to take my deer.

 For most people using firearms is out of the question, but there is the potential for using bows or crossbows from elivated stands to safely and quietly harvest deer. Because the hunter is always shooting down, this removes almost any possibility of an errant arrow going to some unintended location. A problem arises that even lung-shot deer will very often travel 30 yards, which may be onto another landowner’s property.

 It is often a good plan for those who own adjoining lots to form a hunter’s consortium, agree as to where the stands should be placed and that hunters can follow-up their deer onto others’ properties. It is nice if any deer taken is processed and the wrapped meat divided up among  the members who want it – even among those who do not, or cannot, hunt.

For more information on Backyard Deer Hunting consult the E-mail new cover backyard deerauthor’s blog with that title under which will also tell about others author’s books such as Crossbow Hunting and Practical Bowfishing.  Backyard Deer Hunting  takes the reader through all of the steps from taking the hunter safety program to 50 recipes for cooking deer and other wild game. For a look at my outdoor books go to

June 17, 2009, 8:21 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Bats       Potentially sickening        Exclude

 Bats are ecologically helpful, although not very attractive, creatures that feed on night-flying insects and  remove large numbers of flying bugs from the Southern air.  These flying mammals very often nest in colonies in old houses if they can find some dark places to shelter. Their bodies are compressible so they can get in under vinyl sidings, singles, through gaps in the weatherboarding, and the joins between chimneys and the house siding.

  The bats that make colonies are females. In the Summer they have their young. The numerous droppings that they leave can be the host for airborne fungi including those that cause histoplasmosis.  Depending on the house, you might host hundreds of bats. 

  The way to discover if you have bats is to use your nose. If they start to accumulate guano, you can smell it outside of the house, in attics and perhaps even on back porches.  They can also be seen leaving the house immediately after sunset when their exit points may be spotted. The only effective way to dealing with them is to exclude them. Moth balls may serve to help keep them out early in the season, and is worth a try to put these into the nearest places that you can reach.

 At Whitehall we once took off and replaced all of the siding and replaced it, in an effort to exclude the animals. This exclusion is best done in mid-winter after they have migrated south. If you do it while they are still there, the typical result is that they just find another way in. It is almost impossible to seal every hole in an old house.

  I put on a face mask, or even a gas mask, to vacuum up their droppings when I can get a hose to them. The best over-all approach is to discourage them when they arrive in the Spring and exclude them in the Winter. If you have got them during the Summer you are fairly well stuck with them.

 A bat will occasionally get into the house with you. I usually put a bunch of rags on the end of an arrow and shoot them with a kids’ bow and then take them outside if I cannot net and transport them. Bats can be rabid. It is best to take care to avoid bites, and kill and burn any that act strange.