World Rabies Day

Courtesy of For Fox Sake Wildlife

Today is World Rabies Day, a day to raise awareness about the disease and the “vectors” that carry it like skunks, foxes, raccoons, and bats. While the vast majority of wild critters don’t have the virus, it’s still a real and present risk to the welfare of our native wildlife and to the safety of humans and livestock.

About 50% of calls received by animal rehabilitators involve animals with central nervous system infections. These groups work with local animal control officers and the USDA to ensure that these animals are tested for rabies. (Most of these cases turn out to be canine distemper, another fatal and painful viral infection.)

Please have all of your pets vaccinated against rabies and get regular booster vaccines. Do not handle wildlife or take animals from the wild as pets. While the risk of rabies is relatively low, the virus is out there. Animals with rabies don’t always exhibit the drooling, staggering, or aggressive behavior that we would normally recognize as symptoms of rabies. Sometimes they will act overly affectionate.

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A weed is a plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered. Ralph Waldo Emerson

Not all plants are born equal. Some go through their entire life cycle with nary a glance from passersby. Take, for instance, the plants that grow on bare ground and other hostile places with poor soil and few nutrients. To survive, these plants have developed special adaptations such as long tap roots and root nodes containing nitrogen-fixing bacteria. These plants grow, propagate, and die, and in the process enrich and stabilize the soil, paving the way for other, less hardy, plants to grow. These early soil colonizers are the ‘pioneer plants’ — otherwise disparagingly referred to as “weeds.”

Dandelions, the bane of the perfect lawn set, fall into this category, but they, too, have a job to do. Their profligate nature and the fact that they are one of the earliest wildflowers in spring make them an important early food source for honeybees and butterflies. Honeybees gather the pollen in special pockets and take it back to the hive to feed the colony; butterflies and bees alike drink the nectar for fuel.

Dandelions are an important food source for bees and butterflies.

Common milkweed is another pioneer plant that rarely receives its due praise. Found in fields, pastures, vacant lots, and along woodland borders, this native plays an important role as host plant of the larvae of the monarch butterfly (a declining species in Virginia), and is a highly sought-after nectar source for wasps, bees, butterflies, and beetles.

Monarch butterfly on common milkweed

Unfortunately, many homeowners and gardeners spend a fortune eradicating these so-called weeds rather than trying to live with them or manage their numbers. We would be wise to remember that when we remove or destroy the fertile top layer of the soil, nature sends in her first line of defense – the weeds!

Mama opossum carrying 12 babies on her back!

If there was a wildlife Mama-of-the-Year award, this mama would get my vote!

Check out this video of a mama opossum in Wisconsin carrying 12 of her babies on her back.

Opossums remain in the mother’s pouch until they are about two months old. Between two and four months of age, they may ride on their mother’s back and are dependent on the mother for help in finding food and shelter.

Read my earlier blog post about how possums are the unsung heroes in the fight against Lyme Disease.

Please leave possums alone. They are quite harmless, and once the babies are old enough, they will move on.