The Triffid Ranch faces a lot of threats at various times from flora and fauna. The same soil mixes that work so well for carnivorous plants are also prime habitats for clover, so Saturday mornings are spent plucking clover from the propagation pots before the clover goes to seed. Tent caterpillars and green looper caterpillars love the taste of young Nepenthes leaves. While I don’t mind the ongoing Mediterranean gecko/orbweaver spider war in the greenhouse resembling a community theater rendition of Babylon 5, that can’t be said for the black widow spiders that camp out underneath greenhouse benches. Termites and Amanita mushrooms and ants and mosquitoes: they’re all part of the terrain. I don’t even mind the mourning doves out hooting their heads off at dawn, because they make great breakfast for the neighborhood red-tailed and Harris’s hawks and bedtime snacks for great horned owls.
The wildlife component I actively enjoy are the opossums, and we have a regular visitor in “Harold,” named after the nephew of Canada’s greatest superhero. As befitting the US’s only indigenous marsupial, Harold hides out during the day in an undisclosed location, but waddles across the lawn at night to check out the greenhouse and everything in the vicinity. He’s not destructive, though, and he’s welcome even when he leaves calling cards large enough to be seen via surveillance satellite. (As my best friend is fond of quoting, “That beast shits like a man.”) In return, he goes after a lot of bugs and other critters, and he does enough work around here that I’m worried that the Texas Workforce Commission will tag me for not paying his Unemployment insurance premium.
The wildlife welcome, though, isn’t open to one animal: the squirrel. I’ve had a loathing for tree-rats since 1998, when I lived in a house with two gigantic and prolific pecan trees. They were incredibly prolific before the tree-rats stripping the trees of anything remotely edible, and squirrels have the charming habit of partially eating nuts, dropping them, and grabbing another. This meant that every available surface was covered with pecan shells and hulls, which stained concrete and left glass-sharp shell shards underfoot.
Problem is, tree-rats get into everything, and they don’t even have the charms of real rats. Norway rats have high intelligence, long-term memories, and adaptability, while squirrels have nothing other than a prodigious breeding cycle to keep them from becoming extinct. Sometimes it’s the arcing buzz of a tree-rat connecting with a live electrical line, causing a brownout or blackout in the neighborhood that requires you to reset every electric clock in the house. Sometimes it’s the “do you MIND?” expression as one cleans his testicles on the hood of your car in the morning. The aspect of tree-rat behavior that really affects me, though, is their automatic assumption that every pot and planter in the area is full of cached nuts. Apparently dragonfruit cactus and Venus flytrap seedlings smell like a veritable Smaug’s hoard of acorns and other nuts, so I come home from the Day Job to find uprooted and tossed flytraps everywhere.
Hav-A-Hart traps don’t work, because of a combination of utter stupidity and tripwire reflexes. I don’t want to use poisons, because they’d also take out any scavengers of their corpses, from cats to crows to Harris’s hawks. Electric fences are both impractical and a waste of time. They breed faster than standard predators can thin them out, and the Czarina absolutely refuses to allow me to chain up a crocodile monitor to oversee the Sarracenia beds. Hence, I suspect that the rat-sniper from Moscow may have the right idea. Crouching on the back porch with a $3500 air-rifle fitted with a laser sight…and the last thing the squirrel hears is a hearty yell of “Hey! Tree-Rat! SMILE!”