How raccoons, skunks, and opossums help gardeners

An image showing a raccoon, a skunk, and an opossum
Raccoons (Procyon lotor), skunks (Mephitis mephitis), and opossums (Didelphis marsupialis) play a major role in helping keep ecosystems - and garden landscapes - healthy.

Raccoons, skunks, and opossums can be a gardeners’ best friend, if we learn to coexist with them around our homes and landscapes.

Commonly considered and labelled ‘nuisance’ animals, many species are actually vital to helping reduce harmful insect and rodent populations, and can even help control weeds. Here’s how they can help:

1 Raccoons, skunks, and opossums all love grubs and other insects in their diet. Grubs are the larval form of many insects and can themselves cause significant damage to vegetables and the roots of various ornamental plants. Many species of grubs mature into beetles who can be harmful to plants, too.

2 Tick control! Particularly in southern climates of Ontario, where ticks and Lyme disease are a growing concern, having this trio of fur-bearers locally will make an impact. In fact, a single opossum can kill as many as 4,000 ticks in a week!

Opossums (Didelphis marsupialis) are relative newcomers to Canada, having followed the warming climate north of the border. Learn more about these marsupials by clicking here.
Photo by Bob Hilscher / Getty Images

3  Snail and slug control. Every gardener has their preferred snail/slug control method, but the best, lowest cost one is simply letting nature play a role. All three species  will eat snails and slugs, and help reduce their impact.

4 Rats! Rodents of various types can create a headache in gardens, but skunks, opossums, and raccoons are all opportunistic carnivores and will make a meal out of rodents in their habitat.

Beyond these free biological controls for gardeners, many fur-bearers play a major role in distribution of native plant species seeds, called zoochory. This is an important process that some plant species require in order to germinate successfully.

Managing Issues and Access

While allowing fur-bearers to visit your yard or landscape to playout their natural behaviours and ecological roles is wonderful, there can still be negative issues. These species themselves may also access fruits and vegetables, or ornamental plants. Fortunately, there are numerous solutions to these concerns, including:

  • Use a trail cam to determine who’s visiting. It’s easy to see a raccoon one day, damage to a tomato plant the next, and assume the raccoon was responsible. However, many species may be present and simply unseen, even in urban areas. Using a trail camera (or home security system) can help identify which species are visiting – and who may be causing problems.
  • Depending on which species are visiting, various types of fencing – from decorative to engineered or skirted – can keep many animals away from specific plants, garden beds, or raised beds/containers.
  • Motion-activated devices. Easy-to-setup lights, sprinklers, and even flashing “predator eyes” systems can be highly effective in deterring wildlife from specific areas.
  • Attractant management. If you have visitors you don’t want to welcome to your yard regularly, ensure that you’re removing all possible attractants, which can include accessible garbage/recycling bins, unsecured compost, outdoor pet food, bird seed, and even unclean barbecue grills.
  • Rotate your deterrents. Whatever humane, non-invasive systems you use to deter wildlife from your garden, ensure that it isn’t harmful to the animals or environment, and remember to rotate or move the systems around regularly. This helps reduce the chances or time it takes for animals to become comfortable with them.

If at any time you find wildlife living within a structure, such as a shed or under a deck, consider leaving them – particularly during baby seasons (late winter to early summer). Often, they’ll move onto new den sites on their own. But if you find them in your home or their presence is creating a conflict, contact a humane wildlife removal specialist, like those accredited by the BC SPCA AnimalKind program.

Help Make A Difference

Join The Fur-Bearers today and help us protect fur-bearing animals in the wild and confinement. To become a monthly donor (for as little as $10/month – the cost of two lattes) please click here and help us save lives today. Your donation is tax-deductible.

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Established in 1953, The Fur-Bearers is a charitable, non-partisan organization whose goals are to end the commercial fur trade and promote solutions for wildlife coexistence in communities. Your donation is tax-deductible. Charitable registration number: 130006125RR0002

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