Sneaky Critters Head Indoors To Escape Cold
As teeth-chattering temperatures continue to keep shivering Central Floridians indoors, more residents are finding uninvited houseguests joining them to escape the cold -- wild animals and rodents.
Raccoons, armadillos, squirrels and bats are just some of the critters sneaking into homes during the unusually frigid weather this winter. Wildlife-removal companies are being slammed with calls from homeowners in a frenzy about the rumblings they hear inside their walls, attics and even bathtubs.
"The first night, I just thought, 'Be quiet!'" said Shelley Milligan, 29, of Orlando, a mother of three young children who called Critter Control for help in rooting out noisy unseen creatures. "It's just annoying. And with the kids, it just makes me nervous."
Central Florida had a string of record-setting low temperatures in January. The cold days created unprecedented power use, with all major utility companies breaking demand records to keep humans -- and, as it turns out, plenty of furry intruders -- cozy. The area had a temporary reprieve, but the bitter temperatures soon returned, and lows could reach into the 30s this week.
That may mean more problems for residents from rats and other varmints that can easily sneak into a home through cracks and holes within walls or foundations to keep warm. Rats, for example, can slither into a house through a hole as small as a dime.
Trappers stay busy
Residents who can't trap or shoo away the visitors often call on private animal-control services. Critter Control senior wildlife technician Corey Hicks has been responding to about 15 calls a day, and at least half deal with animals entering homes to dodge the cold. During a typical winter, only a few calls each day involved a cold-weather situation.
Hicks came to the rescue of Milligan, who in early January started to hear what sounded like small animals sprinting up and down the walls of her bathroom on chilly nights.
It didn't take long for him to determine the problem: Small pests -- likely rats -- were entering through a vent that had open access into the home.
Hicks, 35, said the buildup of dirt around the vent signaled that a rat probably found a home there. He sealed the vents and any open cracks that could be a possible trail for tiny wild things.
"Wherever they go, they leave a smudge mark," Hicks said as he sealed any possible entrances with duct tape. "Animals are like we are: They are not going to move away. They'll find another way to break in."
After the initial check, Hicks usually returns within 24 hours to set up a steel cage to snatch any interloper. If an animal enters the cage, Hicks removes it from the property. In order to remove wildlife from the property, state law requires that the animals be humanely euthanized.
A1 Wildlife Removal and Exclusion, which serves Seminole and Orange counties, also has seen a boost in business this winter.
"People have been calling, mostly about squirrels getting in," said Chuck Barker, a partner at the company in Lake Mary.
Squirrels and other animals wreaking havoc on unsuspecting families also have kept Lake County wildlife-removal specialist Gary DePalma busy. The cold streak has him hustling to remove opossums, armadillos and ducks.
"They've got to get in where it's warmer," said DePalma, 56, who has owned his namesake wildlife-control business 17 years. "They can climb into attics, and they get in underneath older homes that are unprotected in other areas."
It's baby season
The nippy temperatures coincide with baby season for raccoons and squirrels, which are seeking warm spots for their newborns by using, for example, the insulation in attics.
DePalma's calls also are on the rise from real-estate agents who are getting ready to sell vacant foreclosed homes and find tiny squatters inside.
"When they're vacant," DePalma said, "the animals want to come into them."
Hicks said he understands why the animals want to take a break in a warm, inviting home.
"They're coming in basically for the same reason we want to be inside," he said.
Credits: By Christine Show - Orlando Sentinel