Mothballs a dangerous deterrent to remove chipmunks, squirrels
by Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp
Some people use mothballs in the landscape to deter squirrels, chipmunks, mice, snakes and other critters. This is an illegal use of a registered pesticide and can hurt or kill humans and pets.
In 2010, the National Pesticide Information Center reported 1,514 inquiries about mothballs, a 30 percent increase from 2009. More than half were incidents such as toxic exposure, including 617 reports of misapplication. Nearly 200 incidents involved children under 5 years of age.
The chemical can cause a raft of problems when inhaled or ingested, such as cataracts, anemia, liver damage and, in infants, neurological disorders, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Always read and follow the label directions on any home, lawn and garden product.
Sure, we may think chipmunks are cute to behold, but in the Midwestern landscape their antics can undermine the front stoop, disrupt the sidewalk and unearth plants.
Personally, I have a love-hate relationship with this small member of the rodent family. And I confess to habits that support the presence of chipmunks in my yard, such as feeding birds, growing vegetables and providing shelter through trees, shrubs and other plants. In return for my hospitality, the chipmunks tunneled under my garage floor causing cracks, and under the front and back stoop, causing it to become displaced.
"Chipmunks can be a serious problem," says Jerry Barker, owner of A-rated Affordable Animal Control Inc., in Grove City, Ohio. Barker says he uses live traps, which he checks daily, to catch the critters who are then released several miles from the problem area.
Another option wildlife control companies utilize to rid an area of chipmunks is lethal snap traps. Most companies don't use poisons because of changes in EPA regulations that would require them to have a pesticide applicator's license. Also, chipmunks are at the bottom of the food chain and if killed with poison, could harm any bird, coyote or pet that comes into contact with it.
Wildlife control companies need special licensing or certification from state agencies to handle chipmunks, including their disposal. Live trapping is permitted, but some states legally require they be euthanized later.
Most wildlife control specialists try to educate their customers about things they're doing that attract and support unwanted animals, says Mark Casaleggi, owner of ABC Animal & Insect Innovations LLC, an A-rated company in St. Louis. Keeping bird feeders away from the house and using hardware cloth to block entrances to chipmunk dens can help limit their numbers.
Casaleggi says chipmunks can aggravate gardens, where they tunnel through beds, munch on food and flowers and dislodge plant roots. They breed two times a year and go into a semi-hibernation during winter. Prime times for control are spring and summer.
Hiring wildlife control specialists can be pricey. The initial visit and setup starts around $125 with each trap costing $25 to $65. The cost is high, especially for live traps, because they have to be checked every day. And when lethal traps are used, most customers don't want to see dead animals in their yard. Many wildlife control companies set lethal snap traps inside boxes or other devices to protect desirable animals, such as birds and pets.
Sometimes known as the Hoosier Gardener, Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp lives in Indianapolis. A freelance writer, her work appears in many publications, including The American Gardener. Her latest book, "The Visitor's Guide to American Gardens," is available through Cool Springs Press. Sharp, a director of the Garden Writers Association, also speaks about gardening throughout the Midwest.