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FAQs about Mammals

How do I know if the skull I found is a coyote?

Compare your skull to photos of coyote, fox, and wolf skulls from our collections.


What is the best field publication to use for identifying animals in San Diego?

California Mammals (Jameson and Peeters, 1988) is an excellent reference for the layperson and the scientist. Easy to read descriptions allow for the identification of many of the locally occurring mammals. Mammals of the Pacific States (Ingles, 1990) is another good reference but much more involved. The contents are mostly designed for a person with a background in biology.


Where is the best place to view mammals?

San Diego County offers many urban and rural areas to see mammals. The extensive system of canyons through the urban section of San Diego allows many mammals to live and move somewhat freely. Though to see many different mammals more frequently you should explore many of our public lands including:

  • Mission Trail Regional Open Space Park
  • Cleveland National Forest
  • Torrey Pines State Park 
  • Cuyamaca Rancho State Park    
  • Anza-Borrego State Park

What is the best time of day to view mammals?

Locally occurring mammals are usually not seen by the layperson. Most mammals have adapted their activity cycles to darkness (nocturnal). Nocturnal mammals are not easily seen by our limited vision. An easy method is to drive on country roads at night. Often, nocturnal mammals (e.g. mountain lion, coyote, fox, and coyote) will cross the road in front of you. Their eyes are adapted to gathering as much light as possible therefor when your headlights are viewed directly by a nocturnal mammal they will shine.

Night vision equipment is available at many sporting good stores as well as through catalogs. They usually come in a scope or binocular form, which enables the human eye to see well in near dark conditions. Many of the nocturnal mammals are also crepuscular, which means they are active at dusk and dawn. This is a time when you can view Mule Deer and the Jackrabbit with an unaided eye.

Few locally occurring mammals are active during the day (diurnal). The most common is the California Ground Squirrel. This large rodent is often seen in daylight foraging near a burrow or shelter in order to escape predation.


Raccoons have been coming into our yard at night eating food we leave out for our cats. They have become fairly bold, should we be feeding them?

No, all wild animals need to learn how to forage on their own. When we feed them we are doing them a great disservice. They also begin to expect the food, if it is not there they will often try to break into your home to find the food.


I've been seeing foxes/opossums/skunks in my yard at night. What can I do to attract them/keep them away?

These medium-sized mammals flourish in the urban environment where they feed on garbage and a wide variety of organic matter. Don't disrupt their natural habits by feeding them artificially. Feeding can increase their already abnormally high populations further. Attempting to tame these wild animals can lead to unexpected and unpleasant encounters. Feed your house pets indoors, and don't leave their food outside at night. The Gray Fox and Striped Skunk are native to San Diego; the Opossum is not, having been imported from the eastern U.S. early in this century.


Why are so many opossums killed on the roadways?

The opossum is an introduced marsupial that arrived in California in the early 1900's. Equipped with short legs, opposable thumb on the hind foot, and a prehensile tail allows the opossum to navigate almost all types of habitat within our county. This well adapted omnivore is commonly found as road kill mostly due to its movement pattern at night and its slow rate of speed.


There are bats under the eaves of our roof, how can we get rid of them?

Bats often roost under eves at night and leave early in the morning before sunrise. During the day they roost in and among cracks, crevices, foliage, caves, and other manmade objects like attics, barns, and abandoned buildings where it is quiet and less chance of disturbance. Never attempt to touch or forcefully remove a bat from your home. The best method is to make your home less appealing. First try using bright lights in the area that they prefer to roost. Most bats prefer dark areas when searching for a potential roost site. Loud noises also are effective in disturbing them; roll up a newspaper and slap it on the same wall that the bats inhabit. Both methods are very effective but always first consider keeping the bats. Aside from being a wonderful conversation piece they will also control the insect population in your neighborhood.


I heard that bats can carry rabies. Do they bite people?

Many mammals carry rabies. In the western United States the Coyote, Gray Fox, and the Striped Skunk are the most common carriers of the rabies virus. Most bats are insectivorous which means that they eat insects. The Mexican Free-tailed bat is commonly found throughout the southwest U.S. A large colony of this species can consume over 200 tons of insects nightly. Other bats eat nectar, pollen, fruit, blood and even meat (i.e. frogs, fish, reptiles, and bats). For example, the bulldog bat found primarily in the tropics, is a fish-eating specialist. It flies low over the water and hooks surface swimming fish with its long claws. Only Vampire bats feed on blood from other animals. Their prey is not humans like in the movie Dracula, but mostly livestock or chickens. A small incision is made with their sharp teeth and the exuding blood is consumed. These bats are mostly found in Central and South America.


How can I rid my lawn and garden of gophers?

Gophers are a very common rodent found in most areas of North America. They live exclusively underground where they can destroy plants by consuming the roots or pulling the whole plant down into their burrows. The most effective method of removing gophers is through trapping. Specialized traps are available at most hardware stores. Also available are poisoned baits, which are placed within the gopher burrow, though it is often difficult to find a bait attractive to your particular gopher. The least effective method is the garden hose. Seal all burrows in the vicinity of the most recent activity, which is usually a damp dirt mound covering or surrounding a burrow. Position your garden hose as deep as possible in this burrow and turn the water on high. Be prepared for a wet gopher to emerge.