- Author: Roger Baldwin, Ryan Meinerz, Gary Witmer and Scott Werner
Baldwin and Meinerz are UC Davis and Witmer and Werner are USDA/APHIA/Wildlife Services-National Wildlife Research Center
Voles are short, stocky rodents that often cause extensive girdling damage to a variety of tree and vine crops throughout California. Vole management is often quite challenging given how numerous they can be in a given area. In more recent years, effective management has often relied on some combination of vegetation removal, exclusion using trunk protectors, and rodenticide application. Vegetation removal is a great tool for reducing numbers in a field, but doesn't always eliminate all problems in an area. Plus, vole population size tends to ebb and flow from low to high densities; when densities are high, vegetation removal is often insufficient to reduce girdling damage.
Exclusion through the use of trunk protectors can be a good way to reduce girdling damage as well. However, trunk protectors should be buried at least 6 inches below ground to keep voles from tunneling underneath the protectors. This substantially increases the amount of labor required to protect trees and vines. Ultimately, this approach is only cost effective if high levels of damage are anticipated.
Rodenticide applications are also frequently used to knock down vole populations. However, rodenticide applications are generally not allowable within an orchard or vineyard during the growing season, thereby eliminating the use of one of the most effective vole management tools when it is most needed. Clearly there is room for a new tool to be added to the proverbial IPM toolbox when it comes to managing voles in orchard and vine crops.
Chemical repellents are one such tool that could be considered. Historically, repellents have not proven overly effective for field application against voles. However, recent laboratory testing of anthraquinone indicated that even low concentrations of this chemical were effective at reducing grain consumption by voles. Furthermore, anthraquinone has proven effective as a bird repellent. Anthraquinone is a post-ingestive product that causes animals that consume the product to become ill, thereby making it less likely that the animal will consume the product again during a subsequent feeding event. This kind of repellent is ideally suited for trunk application given that the repellent can easily be applied to the portion likely to be consumed by the vole. If effective, minimal girdling damage should be observed. A repellent application also has the added advantage in that it can easily be paired with vegetation management to hopefully further reduce girdling damage when compared to using either one of these approaches alone. Therefore, we set up a study to test the potential impact that a combination of vegetation management and anthraquinone applications would have on girdling damage by voles to young citrus trees. We also tested the longevity of anthraquinone to determine if long-term repellency following field application was likely. We tested this impact during both spring (characterized by a cool-wet weather pattern) and summer (characterized by a hot-dry weather pattern) seasons to determine if weather impacted potential girdling damage.
We found that anthraquinone was in fact highly repellent following trunk application, with a >90% reduction in girdling damage observed following application regardless of the season when it was applied. Anthraquinone exhibited substantial longevity, with no increase in girdling damage observed for the entire summer (5 weeks) and spring (6 weeks) sampling periods. This clearly indicates substantial repellency for anthraquinone applications, with repellency to last for at least two months, and likely for much longer given that we observed no upward trend at all in girdling damage at the end of our study period.
When combined with anthraquinone treatments, the removal of vegetation completely eliminated all girdling damage during summer. However, we did not observe this same collective impact during spring. That said, the inclusion of vegetation management with anthraquinone applications is likely warranted given our understanding of the need for multiple management strategies to maintain the long-term effectiveness of rodent management programs.
These results clearly indicate effective repellency of voles following anthraquinone applications, but at this time, anthraquinone is not registered for use against any mammalian species. We are hoping to gauge the interest of growers for the registration of this repellent against voles in orchard and vine crops. This is where we need your help. We have developed a very short survey (will take less than 3 minutes to complete) to gauge this interest. Please take this very quick survey to assist in this effort:
- Author: Ben Faber
redcThe hills have been dry for a long time, and the long dry fall is bringing animals into the avocado groves that normally stay out in the hills. They want the green cambium of trees and the moisture it provides. And especially rodents will have a field day in the well-maintained orchards.
Gophers are not usually a problem in mature avocados. They will often chew the bark below ground. Ground squirrels when they get hungry can go after just about any part of the tree, trunk branches and fruit. Voles or meadow mice will go after bark about 2 inches above ground. Rabbits can take out bark up to a foot above ground. This bark damage often leads to the yellowing of the canopy and if damage is extensive enough, wilting of the canopy. Growers don't normally see the damage until they see the wilted tree and start looking for the problem. If healing along the margins of the damage is occurring, it means it was damage that was done previously. If margins are still ragged, it means the beasts are still enjoying the tree. Trapping, poisons and a busy Jack Russell terrier are all effective, especially if used together. Voles especially like mulch around the base of the tree, and should be pulled away a foot to 18 inches. They make tunnels thought the mulch which then becomes a diagnostic for identifying the cause.
It's not just avocados that are ravaged by these animals. Citrus is like candy to them and then there's all those acres and acres of almonds that have been planted.
Avocado canopy collapse. Why? Check the tree out. See the red squirrel feeding stations in the background?
Damage that is healing over.
- Author: Ben Faber
The roof rat (Rattus rattus), sometimes called the black rat, is a common vertebrate pest in citrus, avocado and other yummy tree orchards. It builds leaf and twig nests in fruit trees or nearby trees, or it can nest in debris piles or thick mulch on the ground. This agile, sleek rat has a pointed muzzle, and a tail that is longer than the body and head combined.
Be sure to identify the species of rat present to avoid killing nontarget or protected species. Be aware that endangered native kangaroo rats (Dipodomys spp.) and the riparian woodrat (Neotoma fuscipes riparia) resemble pest rats, but are protected by law. Unlike the hairless, scale-covered tail of roof rats, the tails of kangaroo rats and the riparian woodrat are covered with fur. The riparian woodrat is active mostly during the day, and its tail is somewhat shorter than the combined length of its body and head. A kangaroo rat's tail is noticeably longer than its body and head combined. Kangaroo rats are nocturnal, but unlike Norway rats and roof rats, which move on all four legs, kangaroo rats hold their front legs off the ground and travel by hopping on their hind legs.
Rats gnaw on electrical wires, wooden structures, and fruit on trees. After harvest, they damage fruit in bins, chewing on the bins and leaving excrement. Rats are active throughout the year, and mostly at night.
To help manage rats, reduce shelter and nesting sites of rats. Eliminate debris and wood piles. Store materials neatly and off the ground. Thin and separate non-crop vegetation around orchards where feasible. Exclude rats from nearby structures by properly sealing entry ways.
Baits and rat-sized snap traps placed in trees are the most effective control measures. Rats are wary, tending to avoid baits and traps for at least a few days after their initial placement. Fasten traps to limbs and bait them with sweet fruit or nut meats, but do not set the traps until after bait is readily eaten. Secure anticoagulant wax blocks in a bait station before placing in trees on limbs 6 feet or more above the ground. Placing the wax blocks in a bait station will prevent chunks of the anticoagulant wax from dropping to the ground and creating a hazard.
Be aware that certain types of single-dose rat baits for use inside buildings are not labeled for use outdoors in orchards; these are hazardous to wildlife and should not be used.
For more on the subject see:
and another blog:
- Author: Terry Salmon
Squirrels eat a variety of fresh greens as well as seeds and dried nuts. In spring, ground squirrels prefer greens over seeds and nuts. Once the natural grasses begin to dry and wither, squirrels will actively forage for seeds.
As foragers, squirrels are well-adapted to find sparsely dispersed food, one seed at a time. Once squirrels have had their fill, they will
collect food in their cheek pouches and take it back to the nest to form a cache for later use. Squirrels tend to forage close to their burrow, although they will travel for desirable foods.
How Biology relates to control:
The California ground squirrel prefers to forage for food in the early morning or late afternoon/early evening to avoid the day's heat. In some crop situations, especially nut crops, squirrels may prefer the crop to the point where they will not eat any bait. If the squirrel won't eat the bait, the poison bait method will not work. In this case, an alternative control approach may be necessary (trapping or fumigation).
Understanding these feeding preferences is extremely important when using baits since they are seed based. Also, in irrigated crops or landscape areas, squirrel feeding preferences are influenced by what food is available. For example, the natural vegetation may be dry in early summer and squirrels are actively foraging for seed. If newly sprouted crops are available however, the squirrels may take them with great delight.
The calendar of ground squirrel diet, activity and control measures is adapted from the Best Management Practices for California Ground Squirrel Control website at http://groups.ucanr.org/GSBMP/. Calendar dates are merely an estimation of time; actual time frames may vary according to the weather. The calendar may be laminated for use in planning and training for your operation.
- Author: Mark Freeman
Vertebrate pests that have caused damage to citrus trees include rodents and small mammals, large mammals, and birds. Citrus orchards provide food and shelter for a number of these pests, and damage may be severe if the pest resides in the orchard. Damage can occur to the fruit such as rat chewing or bird droppings. Bark damage and tree death can occur from rodents and larger mammals. Damage to irrigation systems such as chewing on hoses can easily be the most expensive damage.
The goals of a successful management program include reducing the number of pest problems and using control methods that are affordable. There are four key points to establishing and maintaining a vertebrate pest management program. First, one must identify the specific damaging species. Second, review all the management control options. Third, one must take action quickly and early, and use the best option that is appropriate for the time of year and the orchard. Fourth, use a monitoring system to detect when re-infestation occurs and thus more controls are needed.
The first key point is identification and observation. Many of the agricultural commissioners’ offices in the counties can help with this problem. In addition, University of California Production Manuals such as almond and walnut have reference material on different pests. It is critical to identify the specific species or type of pest causing damage. You can use direct observations with some pests such as birds or squirrels that are active during the day. With pests that are active at night or tend to hide, one looks for tracks, burrows, or the type of feeding; or one can use traps. With rodents, one can use the size of the incisor marks on plants to help identify the pest. This is also useful on irrigation systems, where one can remove the damaged part and take it to an expert. Traps are also used where trails are established to capture and identify the pest. Pictures, especially close-ups are very useful and can be emailed or sent to experts on the Internet. If you also describe the adjacent habitat such as foothills, streams or rivers, etc., that information will help.
For some pests, there are many possible control options. It is very important to check with the agricultural commissioner’s office as animals vary by protected status and how the animal can be legally controlled. The pest’s life cycle will determine when and if a certain control method can be used. For example, ground squirrels can be controlled effectively with poisoned baits but not in early spring when the animal is feeding on green material. Gophers can be controlled all year with poisoned baits that are applied into the burrows, but are more active when the soil is moist. Habitat modification may be an economical option, as brush piles near an orchard will provide shelter for pests. Biological control such as attracting owls and hawks to an orchard can assist with control, but seldom keeps rodent levels below economic levels.
It is important to act quickly when a control measure is selected. Some vertebrate pests can increase in population quickly, and control is less expensive with lower numbers of pests. Some pests will reside in the orchard, and create a home there. It is much easier to control them when the pests live outside the orchard.
Finally, it is important to have a monitoring system in place after controlling a vertebrate pest so as to detect if the pest is re-entering the orchard. A good record system is important.
Many of the citrus orchards in the San Joaquin Valley (SJV) are located near the foothills on the eastern side. Some of the more common vertebrate pests include gophers, ground and tree squirrels, mice, rats, rabbit, coyote, feral (wild) hogs, and starlings. Rare tree damage has occurred from bear and beaver. There is more new acreage in the SJV planted in the middle of the valley. Those trees will be susceptible to the vertebrate pests already found nearby.
Rodents such as gophers and meadow mice (or voles) feed on plant roots, and can girdle and kill young citrus trees. Occasionally, gophers can kill mature trees, especially if the tree is weakened by other factors such as root rot. Many members of the rat family and deer mice will feed on citrus fruit. The effectiveness of control measures depends on identifying the specific rodent. The Eastern Fox Squirrel (EFS) is a tree squirrel found near big cities in the SJV and throughout the metropolitan areas of Southern California. It has moved to adjacent commercial citrus orchards and will feed on ripe fruit.
Coyotes, rabbits, and squirrels will damage irrigation hoses. By examining the damage, experts can identify the pest. The EFS has caused considerable damage to irrigation systems in some nut crop orchards in the Fresno area.
Larger mammals can be economic pests. Wild hogs will feed on fruit, damage bark, and create large holes or “wallows” on the orchard floor where it is moist. Occasionally, hogs will destroy irrigation hoses. Beavers have destroyed young citrus trees located near streams.
Bird problems have occurred mainly due to large flocks of starlings that nested in orchards at night. The damage resulted from the bird droppings on the fruit.
More information about vertebrate pests can be found here.