September 30, 2005

Is there a squirrel in my house?

Okay, here's what's troubling me. Two days ago, I found a cracked open shell of an acorn on the carpet over near a wall. Is there any other explanation than that there is or was a squirrel in my house? I can't think of one, and I'm mildly terrified about the whole thing.

People are saying it's a big year for acorns, and you know I've been complaining about the noise they make hitting the roof at night. But that doesn't explain the broken shell getting into the house. And it wasn't just a crushed bit that could have come in on a shoe. It was a big, curved shell part, and, besides, we take our shoes off when we come in.

MORE: In the comments, people are giving me advice on how to trap a squirrel, but if there is an animal in my house, I'm calling the professional who solved the bats-in-the-attic problem a few years ago. My only question is, do I have a problem, not what to do about it.

So, is there a squirrel in my house? Why would a squirrel bring an acorn into my house and then eat it? The squirrels in my yard are running all over the place and burying lots of acorns. Why would one suddenly think eating one inside is a good idea?

Is it kind of like they way we humans go on picnics? We usually eat indoors, and then, on a lark, we say, why not eat outside for a change? So it's like a squirrel reverse-picnic. But you know I have trouble understanding even why humans picnic. Who am I to fathom the mind of the squirrel.

NOTE: There never actually was a squirrel in this house.

82 comments:

F said...

Yeah sounds like a squirrel - was the acorn near a window where a squirrel could have dropped it in by accident??

Anyway squirrels are harmless - I have no idea how one might get rid of them though...

Ann Althouse said...

Not only wasn't it near a window, all the windows have intact screens. I would never leave an unscreened window open around here. There are bats!

Walt said...

This just goes to show that one should never leave their housekeys where squirrels can find them.

tommy said...

they have been known to enter through chimneys before too. If you use the fireplace then you should have little soot squirrel footprints in the house as evidence.

If not, then I don't know. Perhaps acorns are migratory? I've heard that coconuts do.

Jonathan said...

Look at the bright side. It's only a squirrel and not one of these.

knoxgirl said...

I think your house would be otherwise messed up if there were a squirrel loose. But I'd be freaked out too!

Goesh said...

My God, Ms. Ann! The damn thing is going to poop all over your house! Get a live trap and bait it with peanut butter/peanuts and catch that rascal fast and turn it loose far from home. I know this is a wive's tale but it relates that squirrels at night in a house will try to nest in people's hair.

Ann Althouse said...

There are no sooty footprints or other visible disarray. There are no scratchy, scrambling noises either.

F said...

goesh...shame on you...talk about freaking someone out!!

the nesting is an old wife's tale as far as I know...they're harmless

F said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
LDM said...

Woe! Squirrels are wont to genitals themselves affix
Alas! t'is even worse for gentlemen who sport'th dicks
verily they avoid'th traps with their clever tricks
n'er to be cast back deep in the sticks -
LDM (Lonely Donut Man)

SippicanCottage said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ruth Anne Adams said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
J.Bro said...

You and William Sawalich have something in common - http://www.mcsweeneys.net/2005/9/29sawalich.html

O.F. Jay said...

I'll have to go with some of the earlier commenters: if a squirrel were in your home, it should be trashing the place right...about...yesterday. They don't stay docile indoors for long.

The acorn may be just something the feet dragged in. Either way, there's only a little bit more evidence needed to tip the scales to "Squirrel Crisis." I hope you don't come across any more.

Mitch H. said...

If you wear coats or jackets at this time of year, an acorn shell might have hitched a ride in on a shoulder or whatever. Alternatively, a shell might have come in through a door and gotten blown to its remote location by a freak gust.

I lived in a rickety apartment about ten years back that had a squirrel infestation. You could hear them scrabbling about in the walls. If you've got one about, you'll hear it long before you see it. They aren't particularly quiet. We actually used to have fun with ours. Figure out where it was in the wall, give the wall a wallop, and if you catch 'em right, they'd lose purchase on the inside of the wall and go plummeting two-and-a-half stories down into the basement, thumping against the drywall all the way down. Crummy apartment, really...

chrisburp said...

Understand your fear...I was playing a game in my gameroom, and looked down into a closet next to me to see a squirrel looking up at me...almost jumped out of my shoes!! I've been trying the have-a-heart traps...they avoid them!

bob said...

I had a squirrel come down the chimney and into the house. When he couldn't get find his way out he decided to chew his way through the windowsill. I'd advise the peanut butter/live trap solution ASAP

Sloanasaurus said...

Yes, I know from experience that it is bad news to have a squirrel in your attic. You should try to clog up the hole it is using to get into your house as soon as possible. The worst thing that can happen is if the squirrel has babies in your attic!

We used squirrel traps with penut butter (and nuts stuck in the penut butter) to catch the squirrels. Put the traps in your yard near the spot they use to start climbing onto your house. After you catch the squirrel, however, make sure to take the squirrel at least 10 miles away to let it go otherwise the squirrel will find its way back to your house.

EddieP said...

It's fun to make jokes, but hopefully there is another explanation. If there are squirrels in the house, you'll definitely hear them. They don't just come in to relax, they'll forage, urinate, and generally make themselves a pain. So, if you've had no other overt signs, you probably don't have any.

If there is other evidence, a careful walk around the outside may reveal a small hole in the siding, sometimes up near the soffit and fascia. But any hole, even at ground level would provide access.

Do not try to trap them with rat traps, they don't necessarily kill the animal and now you have a wounded trapped animal thrashing around which would be dangerous to try and subdue.

If you must trap one, the peanut butter and other baits are fine, but go to the hardware store and get a wire basket trap. These are effective and humane.

All else considered, watch The Ghost Whisperer tonight for paranormal clues.

me said...

I had a friend with a squirrel problem. He was nice to the squirrel and let it go. The squirrel came back from about five miles away. Sqirrels can track for 12 miles, so if you don't kill the squirrel (assuming you have one), make sure it is released far far away.

reader_iam said...

I had the same thought as Ruth Anne, so, to be helpful, e-mailed Jonah (and included the link)to inquire about the availability of his dog, Cosmo, to make a trip to Madison.

Years ago, I thought squirrels were the greatest, but I now consider them to be, basically, rats with fluffy tails. In our area, they're actually quite aggressive and appear to even intimidate the groundhogs and raccoons (and, over the years, have trained our pugs to ignore them--no mean feat).

This may be a case where "the quality of mercy" should indeed be "strain'd," lest you become overrun. Humane is good, though ...

Meade said...

I don't think it's a squirrel. I think it's a mouse. I'd put the peanut butter on a mouse trap and see what happens. And then I'd follow EddieP's advice and make a careful inspection of the house.

Ann Althouse said...

Let me add that it wasn't just one large piece of shell. It was a large piece that had little scraps of shell around it, as if it had been opened right at that spot on the carpet. That rules out the "blown in" theory. It was also very far from any door to the outside.

yetanotherjohn said...

We had a similar problem with a racoon that decided our attic was the perfect place to live. The solution was simple and inexpensive. Convince the racoon that the attic was not an ideal abode.
We bought a large can of cayenne pepper at the store (generic is fine for this) and sprinkled it lberally around the attic. The racoon decided it was not such a great habitat and departed. Might work for squirrels also. If there is a hole he came in, theres a hole he can get out of.

Jacques Cuze said...

Try to get a good picture of it. Then post it over at FARK.com. They've done remarkable things with squirrel pics and it could bring you many more viewers.

Alternatively, find two Bolivian Tree Lizards.

Freeman Hunt said...

I don't know how the acorn shell got there, but I am also doubting that it was a squirrel. The college that I went to had a big problem with squirrels getting into dorm rooms through the windows. They were awful! Destroyed practically everything they touched. If a squirrel was in your house, I would expect a trail of destruction.

Goesh said...

- and in the meantime, shorten your hair and wear a stout hair net at night. Squirrels like all rodents become quite agitated when their sleep is interrupted - if one got in your hair you darn sure wouldn't want to roll over on him in your sleep. I didn't want to elaborate on the purported wive's tale but should you appear in class with scratches on your neck I really doubt your students would buy a story of a squirrel doing it.

Ann Althouse said...

Thanks, Freeman. But now I'm terrified that a squirrel will get in.

Abestis said...

Ann, don't worry. All you need is a squirrel wrangler. This guy can help you out.

reader_iam said...

Regarding your update, I think that just one acorn is probably insufficient evidence on which to make a judgement as to whether to bring in the professionals. Obviously, there aren't squirrels running rampant or you would surely know.

Just a question .... I know you said everyone removes shoes. But has the weather been such that you or someone else has worn a jacket or sweater with, say, hood or flap in which an acorn could have lodged without being noticed and then later was shaken out? I say this because I have been quite surprised, sometimes, to find twigs, leaves and even, once, a pebble in a hood or sleeve flap that later dislodged in the house. This could also happen with a backpack and some soft computer bags, wouldn't you think?

Just a thought ...

Mark Daniels said...

I don't know if you have squirrels in your house. But I am with you on the question of what do about them. Of course, you should call in professionals.

Earlier this year, we had a family of skunks ensconced beneath our front porch. There was no way I was going to tangle with the crew!

(In fact, a bevy of skunks have terrorized our neighborhood, particularly the local dog population, all summer long.)

The skunks are no longer a problem at our house or in our community. Part of the reason for that happy turn of events is that I "outsourced" my skunk eradication program.

My advice to you is don't try to figure out whether you've got a squirrel problem or not. Call the professionals and let them make that determination.

(No real animals were harmed in the posting of this comment.)

Meade said...

Integrated Pest Management/Mice

Integrated Pest Management/Squirrels

Meade said...

" A 10-year study was done on the relationship between white-footed mice, oaks, and gypsy moths in Massachusetts. The study found that increases in density of gypsy moths were associated with declines in density of the white- footed mouse, a predator, and changes in density of the white-footed mouse were closely associated with mast crops of acorns." http://www.columbia.edu/itc/cerc/danoff-burg/invasion_bio/inv_spp_summ/Lymantria_dispar.htm

Meade said...

And finally... Mice can invade attics where they will feed on seeds and acorns found in the gutters of homes.

annke said...

Ann, I think you will need to find exactly where the squirrel got in, or it will just keep getting in that hole.

They are destructive little creatures. I came home from having oral surgery once to chaos. My dog had "treed" a squirrel on a window cornice. The squirrel was screaming, the dog was barking.... We called the village to send out animal control, but instead, possibly out of boredom, they sent two police squad cars. Then several neighbors, seeing the police pull up, believed something bad had happened and started piling into the house.... A cop finally ended up carrying the squirrel out of the house in a long funnel we used to fill the humidifier, which the beast, now coolly collected, rode in as if in a palanquin. And I had thought I'd get to spend the afternoon buzzing on painkillers.

But more to the point, that or another squirrel got back in later and, free of any dog threats, gnawed the pane dividers clean off the living room window. It also gnawed a hugh chunk off the window sill, chewed into a Victorian table (the memory still makes me cringe), and down in the basement, ripped most of the stuffing out the lawn furniture pads.

Find that hole!

paulfrommpls said...

This comes from experience.

First: you don't want squirrels in the house.

Second: if you have squirrels in the attic, you will hear noises telling you you have squirrels in the attic. The I mention the attic is, I seriously doubt you have squirrels in the house and not in the attic or somewhere similar. Although I also think that if you have squirrels anywher ein the house, you'll hear evidence.

Third: when we had squirrels, they were red squirrels. Red squirrels are addicted to getting into houses. They love houses. Do you see red squirrels in the vicinity?

Fourth: It's actually not that difficult to figure out the potential places they're getting in. Once we roused ourselves out of our stupor and decided we could no longer ignore the noises, we found the problem: our roofer had installed plastic (not metal) roof vents, which provided easy access to the attic. There was a very identifiable hole. We had those replaced with metal vents.

But, the red squirrels were quite determined. They chewed a hole in a too-flimsy attic window screen, and nested right benath it. Replaced that with an impregnable screen. Then, they chewed through a little screen right at the peak, and nested in the peak of the house. Replaced those.

I'm told it's rare, but we defeated the red squirrels. For about a week after the last screen replacement, a red squirrel would shout at me every time I left the house from a perch in the tree in the front yard. Just pissed, man. Then he moved on.

A lot of this is doable yourelf, is one point; and it can be expensive if you don't. And trapping them isn't enough, is another. Unless you fix the entrances, one red squirrel will replace another.

And if you trap a red squirrel, within an hour he will kill himself trying to get through the cage. It can be sad. If you release him, the golden rule is: take him to to other side of a river. If you don't, he'll be back.

Meade said...

This may be the greatest squirrel story ever. (scroll to about 19:50)

paulfrommpls said...

Forgot to mention: I think a little pile of shell fragments would be more indicative of a squirrel than one half-shell.

Wade_Garrett said...

I was always told that if you think you have a rodent in your house, but don't know for certain, leave a piece of breakd and a piece of cheese on the floor of the room overnight, and if its still there in the morning, you don't have a problem. If its gone, call an professional. I'd assume this also works for squirrels.

SippicanCottage said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
vbspurs said...

Little baby squirrels began raining into our house. Open a closet, two beady black eyes looking at you. I'd catch them with a minnow net, and put them outside.

STOP! Beady eyes, baby squirrels, nests...it's worse than a poltergeist!

This blog should come with a warning, because if it's not the bats, it's the acorns, now the squirrels.

(later in the thread)

All you need is a squirrel wrangler

Can you believe there is actually such a thing as a squirrel wrangler??

It all sounds too impossible, and redolent of that show on History Channel International/BBC called,

"Worst Jobs in History"

Hosted by Blackadder, Tony Robinson.

Ann, don't squirrels hibernate for the winter?

If so, you'd better really get that wrangler in your house if only for an inspection, since winter is around the corner, making it more impossible to get rid of them.

I know you have had experience with the bat-professional, but perhaps before calling anyone, you can ask a Univ of Wisc-Mad professor specialising in rodents what you should do.

Check out the Zoology Dept. first and get a friendly opinion -- since squirrel wranglers may cost the earth.

Cheers,
Victoria

Ann Althouse said...

lmeade: Yeah, I love that "This American Life" story of the squirrel. I was already thinking about that.

Ann Althouse said...

Paul: There were little fragments next to the big piece. And the nut inside was gone.

Ann Althouse said...

Terrence: Great idea! I'm going to do that. I'm also going to listen around under the attic. My house is huge and there are tons of places that could develop holes. I had everything sealed well about 5 years ago when the "bat man" did his work. He capped the chimney to keep things out. I find it hard to believe anything came in the chimney. And I don't see how a squirrel in the attic could get out of it. Do you think a squirrel could come in through a through-the-wall air conditioner?

Bruce Hayden said...

Just hope that it doesn't die someplace inconvenient. My father has a squirrel, mouse, or chipmonk die in his walls every three months or so, and after the smell getting a bit overwhelming, they have to have someone come out, open up the wall, dispose of the carcus, and replaster the wall.

Internet Ronin said...

Is there any chance one of your friends who knows you have a "thing" about animals in the house has set you up?

(I don't remember you mentioning having a cat or dog, so I'm assuming you have neither. Otherwise, a cat could be the culprit.)

As others have said, if a squirrel was in your house, it is gone now because you would definitely see or hear it if it was still there. Doesn't mean it can't return some way, but it seems unlikely.

Meade said...

" Do you think a squirrel could come in through a through-the-wall air conditioner?"

No, but a mouse could. Mice are able to collapse their skeletons and get through the smallest cracks - as small as, say, the size of an acorn. Set a mouse trap. If you catch one, mystery solved. If you don't catch one, call the pros.

Robert said...

Ann -

From the evidence (one acorn, no other signs) you don't have a squirrel. Have you had a windy day recently? You have long hair; fall weather + long hair = little bits of acorn getting into your house.

Ann Althouse said...

Ronin: I don't know, but this thread sure shows how easy it would be to freak out your friends!

SippicanCottage said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Simon Kenton said...

It was the planning meeting for a Grand Canyon trip, and a potluck. I had made somosas and they were scarfed up and much exclaimed over by a group of ladies who clamored for the recipe. I said, "First, using a nice quiet .177 caliber pellet gun, shoot the heads off 4 fox squirrels in your back yard. Then render the flesh from their bones in a pressure cooker. While the squirrels are cooking, ..."

If you ever dine at the Kentons', suspicion, well-seasoned suspicion, is the watchword.

peter hoh said...

We had squirrels in one apartment we lived in. They were plenty noisy. And they peed in the attic, leaving a smelly stain on the ceiling. I had success with one of those ultra-sonic pest repellent gizmos.

An alternative theory as to the presence of acorns in the house can be seen in the children's movie, My Neighbor Totoro.

Pastor_Jeff said...

Simon,

LOL! That's why I've held on to our old edition of Joy of Cooking - just in case I need to skin a fresh rabbit or de-scent a muskrat.

Ann,
Be aware that if they are red squirrels, JOC warns they can taste "gamey" compared to the greys.

You're welcome.

vbspurs said...

Ronin: I don't know, but this thread sure shows how easy it would be to freak out your friends!

Or enemies.

(deep diabolical Dr. Evil-dressed-as-Daily Kos laugh)

Cheers,
Victoria

vbspurs said...

Tony Robinson was Baldrick. Mr Bean was Blackadder.

I had to check what I wrote, because I could not believe I had made that mistake. Argh I did! Mistyped:

Blackadder('S) Tony Robinson.

Rat au Vin sounds delish!

May I suggest chips in gravy as accompaniment, and a savoury to follow?

Ann's various rodent travails are not a problem. They're a banquet!

Cheers,
Victoria

vbspurs said...

Chez Kenton.

Hmm, yes.

Hednesford's most upmarket French-Curry eatery.

Cheers,
Victoria

whit said...

A squirrel in the house hmm? Did you have any liberal friends over recently?

rcs said...

Let's back up. You've complained for weeks about acorns dropping and (presumably) rolling on your roof. Is there any chance that you're hearing the (often amazingly resonant) sound of squirrels running? They'll get going at first light, and all those little footfalls can sound very much like an irregular object (like an acorn) rolling.

The acorn fragments don't sound like a mouse's work. And why would a mouse bring an acorn inside? That's awfully sisyphean. There's one other common rodent, which could crunch up an acorn without too much fragmentation, is quiet inside, and does well in a distressing range of nice neighborhoods. And I don't mean a capybara.

Listen carefully in the predawn gray and convince yourself that you're hearing happy, adorable squirrels galloping. Consider the alternative.

Ann Althouse said...

RCS: There is no empty space between my bedroom ceiling and the roof, no attic in that part of the house. And I hear animals running around on the roof all the time. Sometimes a large raccoon drops onto the roof from a tree. When I first moved into the house, I thought there had to be a man on the roof. But why? How bizarre! Anyway, after 20 years, I know the squirrel from the acorn. I hear lots of both, but they aren't inside.

Meade said...

"sisyphean" mouse - I like the image. Trouble is, in modern mythology, instead of having the acorn roll back into the gutter, the mouse gods allow mice, quiet as they tend to be, to have blissful little picnics in the mouse upper world which is all too often the bedrooms of men and women who struggle in vain for knowledge and a solid six or seven hours of restorative slumber.

Sure, the snapping of a mouse trap can disturb one's sleep. But that is often followed by the restful comfort of knowing that one more vector of pathogens and parasites has been permanently sent to the underworld of the backyard compost heap.

girlfriday said...

I listened to a story on Car Talk about a woman who was having dog food spewed out her car's vents when she turned on the AC. They said she had a mouse. It was storing dog food in her car that it found in her garage.

Animals do weird things. Especially with food.

SippicanCottage said...

Ann-"There is no empty space between my bedroom ceiling and the roof, no attic in that part of the house."

That is extremely unlikely. Your rodents might be hunchbacks, but unless you are living in an unheated, uninsulated cabin, you're likely not looking at the underside of the roof when you're in bed. There's plenty of room for them to get around in a joist or stud bay, and make a midden.

Ann Althouse said...

Sippican Cottage: I'm rather sure it's solid material. There are exposed beams on the inside of my room with boards across the top of them. Above that are various layers of things, but no open space. There is insulation, but it is solid foam of some kind.

Steel Turman said...

1. Squirrels can be rabid.

2. One acorn does not a squirrel indicate.

3. Solution? One word - CAT.

Woost said...

You didn't mention if you have a dog. Some acorn tops fit exactly onto a single pad on my dogs foot. she sounds like a tap dancer. If it seats just right she lets me know "ow, ow, ow". But otherwise she could drag it in and drop it anywhere in the house

SippicanCottage said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jeremy said...

As you probably know, sometimes nut shells can stick to your shoes (especially if it's been raining). Usually they fall off right away (and so by a door), but rarely, they will stick longer and fly off while you are walking. That's probably more likely than a squirrel inside your house. They are not the bravest of creatures.

amba said...

If it's any comfort, my sister the infectious-disease specialist says rodents do not carry rabies. This was news to me -- I used to think that if you gave a little critter in the park a peanut and got nipped, you had to catch the squirrel and have it tested or else have a horrible series of shots in your abdomen.

amba said...

So tell SippicanCottage s/he can stop worrying on THAT score.

Ann Althouse said...

I have no (voluntary) pets. bww

SippicanCottage said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Hoots said...

All those comments and no one asks the obvious...
Are there any little post-it notes inside the chimney?

Meade said...

A post-it-noting Pooka infestation sounds...ahem, plausible. But have acorn-eating-Lyme Disease-infected tick-carrying mice been completely ruled out?

Steve said...

Perhaps the acorn fell from the oak tree growing in your living room. You really do need to clean the place more often.

vbspurs said...

Still with the squirrel story? Dayummm.

Come on, Ann, feed my blog needs!!

P.S.: I betcha she went to the movies tonight, and will be blogging on it, Saturday. Yay.

Cheers,
Victoria

Brad V said...

Maybe it's a flying squirrel. A friend of mine recently had to remove one from her printer. And it hissed at her the whole time.

dub-sea said...

Would you be willing to pass along the name of the exterminator who you mention in your "Is there a squirrel in my house?" post? I believe that there is a squirrel in my attic and am interested in hiring a Madison-local pro.

Ann Althouse said...

Yeah, just email me.

jasco said...

My next door neighbour is elderly and seams to have a number off breading females in various parts off her roof space. The property is ill kept and many entrances allow them to bread. She had panicked at the moment on only just finding out, but will not be in a position to close these off until the end of may. This is when the young leave the den. I think squirrels are great and should be protected, but the number I have seen in the house next door, they should be evicted. Bless her she cannot even hear them. She has more sqirrels indoors than there are liveing outside our garden.

George said...

Whoever said "squirrels are harmless" is an ignorant person. I live in the country and have lived here all my 62 years. We have red squirrels here and they are a terribly destructive rodent. Over the years they have gotten into the house from time to time and I have always been able to shoot them when they show themselves outside. But now I have one (or possibly two) who have moved into my cement block workshop. They have been there for over a year and I can't get rid of them yet. They rarely show themselves outside. They chew holes through everything including the ceiling, my cabinets, drill press drive belts, the double planked door, wiring, etc. When I enter the shop I see the red squirrel scampering up the wall through the latest hole he has chewed into the attic area overhead where I store seasoned hardwood. I have tried live traps baited with peanuts, peanut butter, caramel corn and he is not tempted. My shop is littered with red squirrel poops and my table saw is stained with his urine. My cabinet drawers are filled with fiberglass insulation he has dragged down from the attic area. Any hole of his that I close is replaced in one day by another. I have screwed 3/4 oak flooring pieces over his hole and in one afternoon he chewed right through the oak flooring. If anyone knows of a successful way to kill/eradicate red squirrels I would love to hear about it.ap

gail said...

I just found your discussion through google becausse recently we found one of our houseplants with traces of dirt all around it and two acorns buried in it. The next day the acorns were in a different spot. Then last night we found an acorn in our bed! Help!