LIVING IN NEW JERSEY: When I first encountered local American animals like squirrels and chipmunks , they seemed so cute and harmless, that I was lulled initially into thinking that there was no truly dangerous wildlife in New Jersey. Obviously I was in for a few surprises. Then I started to read different news stories about bears and coyotes, and rabid animal sightings. The wildlife here is far more diverse than I had imagined and definitely has its share of challenges.
No one ever mentioned to me that some of the most dangerous wildlife in New Jersey includes snakes. It was only by researching the topic that I discovered this. Sadly I have spent all my time to date walking around woods areas, completely oblivious that there are poisonous snakes in New Jersey.
So it is no exaggeration to say I was quite surprised to find there are two snakes in NJ that are considered dangerous. The Timber Rattler and the Northern Copperhead are both venomous snakes, with good-sized fangs that produce a lot of venom. Timber rattlers are found in thick rocky woods but move out to wider areas during the mating season. They are found near the Kittatinny Ridge north of the Water Gap, the northern Highlands area and the Pine Barrens.
Northern copperheads have a wider distribution in Northern NJ, from the Hunterdon Sourlands, Mercer, and Somerset Counties in the south, up to the northern New Jersey/New York border area. While deaths are uncommon, they do occur – none have been reported in New Jersey but several have been in other states. Both these snakes should be treated with extreme caution. Anti-venene is available for bites.
Much more common and widespread is the Black Bear. Not as ferocious or aggressive as the Grizzly bear, the Black Bear is still considered very dangerous and life-threatening. They tend to like heavily wooded areas with thick vegetation, often in mountainous parts of the state. However, they range widely, and have even been found wandering into urban areas on occasions: https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=15&v=6D9jBzfVJfE
Attacks are rare with only one death from a black bear attack ever reported in New Jersey.
Never run away when you sight a bear – it is better to back away slowly. Stay away from any bear cubs, as mothers will defend them aggressively. It is recommended to carry pepper or bear spray if hiking in areas where they are known to frequent.
Once a rare sight in New Jersey, coyotes are becoming much more frequently encountered, even in urban areas. A recent attack in Fairfield, New Jersey, is an alarming example that shows, coyotes are adapting well to urban life, and may start to interact more often as their numbers grow. Coyotes may attack larger prey in a group by surrounding their prey before attacking, although in the attack mentioned above it was a lone coyote involved. Coyotes can also suffer from rabies, which can potentially make them more aggressive if anything. Any coyotes that do not shy away from people need to be reported to local police or wildlife authorities.
Bobcats are medium-sized cats about twice as big as house cats. They are shy and unlikely to attack humans, unless they are rabid. Outside of rabies-affected bobcats, attacks on humans are virtually unknown. They will however attack rabbits and small pets in some cases. In New Jersey the bobcat is endangered so you are unlikely to see any but treat them with caution, as with any wild animal.
How could such gorgeous animals be dangerous you might wonder? Aside from the fact they can bite and scratch as wild animals often do, they are also a big nuisance when it comes to garbage rummaging. The major danger they present though, is from rabies. Raccoons are one of a number of American animal species that are known for being a wild reservoir of rabies. So even though they look cute, don’t go near them.
One of my all-time favourite animals on the planet are squirrels. They are loved by many for their entertaining antics. This includes their unending curiosity and obsession with getting acorns, no matter where they may be lodged. Sadly, squirrels are also considered pests by many due to their high numbers and capacity to enter houses through the roof, eaves or attic areas, where they can cause much damage. Like raccoons they can bite and scratch but also can be a source of rabies, so should not be ‘handled’ except by animal removal experts.
White-tailed deer are the beautiful Bambi-like creatures that you see in many parts of New Jersey that have any forested or nature areas. These deer are not native but exist in high numbers everywhere in New Jersey and are considered a pest. They will often be culled when numbers get too high. Deer themselves will not hurt you but their habit of running onto the road suddenly in front of oncoming traffic creates many accidents. This is just one way they present danger. The other is via deer ticks which are discussed below.
Ticks and Mosquitoes
Ticks and mosquitoes make an unholy twosome that can be the cause of big problems for humans including life-threatening illness.
Ticks: These are plentiful in New Jersey vegetation and can occur living on deer, opossums, raccoons, cattle, horses, sheep, goats and dogs. They can carry a range of diseases that includes Lyme disease, a debilitating and sometimes chronic illness, as well as Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Anaplasmosis, Babesiosis, Ehrlichiosis, and Powassan Virus. Ticks come in a variety of types including blacklegged, lone-star, American dog, and woodchuck ticks. There are recent reports in New Jersey of the exotic Asian Longhorned tick that is rarer but possibly spreading. The major activity period for ticks is from late spring to early fall but protective precautions should be taken in all-weather except perhaps during freezing conditions in winter. If in doubt, it is best to err on the side of protection to avoid this problem.
Mosquitoes: The ‘New Jersey Skeeter’ as the locals refer to their state’s mosquito pest is rather infamous, as a voracious plague-style problem that was once known for residing in much of the state’s swampy and water-filled land areas including the Meadowlands. It was considered so prolific and widespread that it was once named by some wits as the New Jersey state bird.
Jokes aside though, mosquito numbers are increasing and create a health and safety issue for many towns in New Jersey. Species such as Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus are known carriers between them, of a few debilitating illnesses. These include the Zika, West Nile River, yellow fever, dengue, and Chikungunya diseases. Mosquito numbers are increasing with climate-change-induced weather patterns. This year (2019), the number of positive-testing water pools for West Nile disease was 452, found in 21 counties throughout the state, which is nearly double the number found last year. The worst counties for high counts include Bergen, Morris, Hunterdon and Gloucester Counties (highest to mid-highest levels).
Currently the ‘disease-danger’ days, when mosquitoes are more active, ranges from March-December. However, it is expected that soon mosquitoes will persist throughout the entire year.
Precautionary Measures against dangerous wildlife in New Jersey
· Never purposely feed wild animals, including coyotes, squirrels, raccoons or opossums. Leaving food out may endanger other pets in your neighbourhood that may become victims of coyotes particularly.
· Never leave pet food for your own pet outdoors, as it may also attract other wild animals, including rats.
· Make sure your trash cans are securely closed, so that raccoons or other animals cannot easily access them. Invest in a rubbish bin storage unit outdoors, if raccoons are a common problem.
· Do not leave pets outside at night, if possible. Otherwise they should be securely kept where other predator animals cannot attack or frighten them to death. This applies particularly to rabbits, birds, poultry or guinea pigs.
· Empty outside water sources and keep bird-feeders locked away at night to prevent attracting rats, mice and coyotes.
· Don’t leave compost bins uncovered or fruit laying on the ground, as this also attracts wild animals including rats.
· Keep watch of young children at all times, as though rare, coyotes can attack humans if feeling bold enough.
· Deter coyotes and others by keeping vegetation cleared near house, removing woodpiles and making any coyote visitors unwelcome with noise, hosing or similar deterrence methods.
· If hiking in any wooded areas, carry preventive tools such as bear spray, pepper spray, a loud whistle or similar, to scare away coyotes, and if appropriate, black bears. Always research hiking trails before proceeding to walk there. Check for recent sightings of wild animals and latest recommendations about walking.
· Never approach an animal that looks like it may have contracted rabies, as this makes animals more aggressive than normal, and more likely to bite. Rabid animals can often act strangely, sometimes uncoordinated, staggering and disoriented, partly paralysed or foaming at the mouth. Rabies is a serious disease for humans as well. If bitten seek treatment immediately, as rabies can be fatal if not treated within a short time-frame.
· Motion-sensitive lighting around the house may help deter wild animals from your yard, although not always. Raccoons can be so determined they ignore bright lights, though it may work for some.
· Do not leave outside containers like bird baths or pet bowls with standing water for longer than one day as they provide a perfect breeding site for mosquitoes. After rain or storms, empty any outside items that may have incidentally collected rainwater e.g. flower-pot saucers, toys, garden ornaments, tyres, outdoor play areas, puddle areas on driveways, etc.
· Always use repellent on exposed skin to avoid mosquitoes and ticks. Wear long sleeves and pants outdoors to minimise biting. Treat shoes and clothing with repellent if near vegetation to deter ticks from crawling onto you.
· If you do detect a tick attached, you should remove the tick as soon as possible, following recommended procedures for tick removal. Keep a note of the date of tick bite and watch for 30 days afterwards for any rashes or other symptoms. Lyme disease has a tell-tale bullseye rash. If anything is noted, seek medical treatment soon after. Lyme disease responds best within a short window after the initial tick bite.
New Jersey wildlife is spectacular, but common sense and some basic precautions should be followed to avoid dangerous situations and problems.