(A REPRINT OF ROSE MOORE'S COLUMN IN GAZETTE NEWSPAPERS OHIO, 12-14-2007)
BY WAY OF WARNING, let me share with you the story of a growing colony of squatters that has existed in our home, uninvited and undetected. They have been poor tenants. They sought no lease with us and have paid no rent to us. They have removed, ruined and soiled a lot of insulation and have not compensated us for the consequential loss of money or heat. They have chewed wires and left their own grafitti in the form of droppings...
They are flying squirrels, though Bob and I refer to them these days as "The Alien Air Force in the Attic." In a declaration of war, we have been in the process of eviction and exclusion of these costly pests. If that doesn't meet with the approval of PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) and their views, too bad; we are animals too.
If these were not the flying sort of squirrels, things might not have been as bad. While other squirrels are territorial and won't willingly share their nesting spots, the flying squirrels are all too sociable with their own kind. "Y'all drop by and stay awhile; we'll keep each other warm," seems to be their attitude, and their colonies expand amazingly. And that spells filthy, dirty, expensive trouble in the human habitat.
The animals have inhabited our attic for quite some time, apparently, but we hadn't heard a sound from them, perhaps because our ceilings are high, our walls thick, and our insulation installed with exceptional R-factor ratings in mind. These construction details were designed to serve as buffers against sound as well, in this case to our detriment.
OUR SAGA STARTED in earnest with the arrival of cold temperatures this season, when we realized our home just wasn't keeping us warm anymore. We thought perhaps our insulation had done some settling over the years and needed boosting. Like many people our age, we don't willingly climb into attics anymore, so we had an insulation contractor come to check things out for us. All too quickly he scurried down from the attic to inform breathlessly that he would return---"ONLY when those bug-eyed scary things are gone from your house!".
We were fairly sure he wasn't referring to us, so my husband and a family member went into the upper reaches and were shocked at the damages there. We had a major project facing us, for sure.
At least one price for the preliminary work---evicting the critters and sealing the access points the animals had established---ran into the thousands of dollars (close to $4,000), and that did NOT include the extensive bio-clean-up and the restorations. Our insurance company denied our damage claims; they had recently sent a policy amendment excluding payment for damages by rodents and removal of pollutants caused thereof. (Rodents!? In 15 years here, we'd never heard a rodent scratch or seen a dropping. So when that rodent damage exclusion notice arrived, we foolishly set it aside to discuss later with our agent).
So here we've found ourselves as a result, acting as our own Homeland Security and financially responsible for the evictions and the barricading of our home against further invasion; and after that, the clean-up and replacement of the insulation.(You might carefully check your own insurance in that regard).
We had set to work to beat the winter season, but the onset of cold temperatures arrived too quickly. Coupled with the drastic loss of attic insulation, winter brought new noises to our ears; we could hear the sound of furry little pilots "bowling!" (Actually, they were pounding acorns and black walnuts against the wood with their front incisors to obtain the inner foodstuff they had stored for winter).
We since have learned that flying squirrels will also gnaw the bark from maple trees to get at the precious sap that so attracts them. And some occasionally will even fall into a sap-collection bucket and drown. (We're not mourning over that, except for the lost bucket of sap).
IT SURPRISES MANY people that flying squirrels exist at all in this area, but wildlife people have said they're actually quite common, and more and more they seem to be creating problems in Lake-Geauga buildings. The reason you so rarely see these mammals---certainly not as often as you see the non-flying type---is because flying squirrels are the only truly nocturnal tree squirrels in North America.Their principal enemies include owls and house cats; in the case of our own problems with them now, you can add our names to that short list. (Forget the cat; I'm allergic).
I know... Those flying squirrels are cute, especially if they're damaging someone else's house. And I admit I was once a fan of that celebrated TV jet-age aviation ace, Rocket ("Rocky") J. Squirrel of Rocky and Bullwinkle fame. But Rocky wasn't living in my house.
If you don't take their "wingspread" into account, these little guys are no larger than chipmunks, and their plush fur, short ears, longish tail and bright bug-eyes give them an appealing, sprightly look. So appealing have they been to some, in fact, that southern flying squirrels (which inhabit the north too) have been captured or bred to be sold as pets since the 1800s.
Via the internet, I'm even finding advice from flying-squirrel fans about adopting them; rehabbing them from injury; relocating them to someone else's property (likely illegal and certainly not fair); attracting them to your own property; building a home (nesting box) for them... HUH!
AS A FORMER PILOT of small airplanes, I admit I find these little mammal aviators interesting---or at least respect their flying skills. Experts say the squirrels don't actually fly and should therefore be called falling squirrels or gliding squirrels. (Nit-pickers!)
They accomplish "flight" their own way---with legs outstretched and the fold of skin between each foreleg and hindleg acting as a combination parachute and sail (or glider wing), allowing the animal to turn or change its angle of descent. The tail acts as a stabilizer in flight (like the tail of a kite), and just before it lands, the squirrel drops its tail and lifts its forequarters to slacken the "wing," which then serves as an air brake.
This highly efficient little self-contained glider-and-pilot contraption can travel at least three square miles in four hours, soaring from tree to tree. (It is usually the male who does this sort of travelling, by the way, to reach a female).
INTERESTING AND CUTE or not, Bob and I have yanked the welcome mat from under our unexpected house guests. They haven't necessarily been leaving easily, and we've had our moments of frustration over that. One night, my husband climbed into the attic to check the traps and was confronted by a merry crew of flying squirrels, looking him boldly in the eye and gleefully dancing around among the traps, defying them... and him. Obviously, as my husband told me afterward, he was not invited to that party. I couldn't help laughing at the mental image of my burly husband being firmly banned from that gathering of bug-eyed, manic little critters.
As of now, the war continues; we're progressing well and seem to be winning. But the season isn't over yet.
Check your attics!
(If you're not a flying squirrel intent on invading her home, Rose is always happy to receive your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org).