I’m always raving about all the wildlife and outdoor adventures we have here in Kansas, but much like an inverse bucket list, there are also things I’m glad we DON’T have here. The other night I watched a TV show about the Florida Everglades. The host of the show was there to try and catch a monster everglades bull shark, and as sort of a rite-of-passage, his local guides made him first swim with alligators and then help them catch a huge python snake which are an invasive species to the everglades and are wreaking havoc with its fragile ecosystem. I’ve been trapping muskrats in the McPherson Valley wetlands just outside Inman, which involves wading around in marshes of cattails and marsh grass that look a little like areas of the Everglades. I’m eternally grateful I don’t have to keep my eyes peeled for gators’ and pythons; geez, I’m glad we don’t have those in Kansas.
I think Joyce and I must have been storm chasers in a previous life; when the tornado sirens blare and the TV weathers guys are yellin’ at us to get in our storm cellars or go to the basement, we’re bustin’ out lawn chairs and watching for the twister, despite the devastation they can cause. Some of the memories I’ll take with me to the grave are pictures and news footage showing cities and states ravaged by hurricanes like Katrina, and of the huge devastating walls of water produced by tsunamis as they wash cars and buildings through the streets of seaside countries like Haiti. So as much as I’d like to own some oceanfront property outside Inman, I’ll take the occasional tornado that can wipe out parts of towns along its way over a hurricane or tsunami that can wipe out the entire state; geez I’m glad we don’t have those in Kansas.
The adventure that inspired this column came from a recent trip to Mesa, Arizona where Joyce and I spent time with my dad who winters there. He has a place in a nice “snowbird park” and one of the activities he enjoys is picking oranges, lemons and grapefruits with other guys from the park. The Mesa and Scottsdale areas are havens for citrus fruit trees. There are acres of commercial orange groves within the Mesa city limits, plus many homeowners have citrus trees in their backyards like homeowners in Kansas have apple, apricot and pear trees. And like homeowners here, many people don’t want or use most of the citrus fruit from those trees. Each February a crew of guys from dad’s park go one day each week and pick unwanted fruit for homeowners, then bag the fruit and take it back to the park and put it out for any residents who want it. Many of the homeowners even give the guys gas money for picking and taking their unwanted fruit. It’s a win-win deal all the way around, but the homeowners there seemed much more serious about getting rid of their unwanted oranges, lemons and grapefruit than homeowners here are about getting rid of their unwanted fruit, and I often wondered why. I found out it’s because of a rodent called a “roof rat.”
Roof rats are also known as black rats (but are not really black) and are slightly distinguished from other rats by the length of their tails which are longer than their bodies. Roof rats are historically thought to be the vermin that spread the Plague or Black Death during the Middle Ages. They were first noticed in the Phoenix AZ area in 2001, and have become a problem throughout the area because fresh fruit and especially citrus fruit is their favorite meal. I found a website maintained by Maricopa County AZ, which contains the cities of Phoenix, Scottsdale and Mesa, called www.roofrat.net. Its mission statement reads “To help neighborhoods work, Donate quality fruit and Eradicate roof rats.” On a list of roof rats preferred foods, the top 6 were citrus fruits, which according to the website they will even eat off the tree. To help eradicate roof rats, the website urges homeowners to “Promptly and completely pick all fruit (ripe or not) on citrus and other fruit and nut trees and pick up all fallen fruit every season.” I was told that Scottsdale residents may even incur a hefty fine for not doing so. Roof rats nest in attics, hedges and even in trees.
Maybe writing this column was a lesson in just how good we Kansans have it compared to some other states. Yes, we have ticks and brown spiders which both require our respect. We have earth shattering thunderstorms and tornados, but not hurricanes. We have bull snakes, rat snakes and the occasional prairie rattler, but not gators’ and pythons. We have mice, rats and pack rats (which can be a problem if not discovered,) but not roof rats to eat the fruit off our trees and infest our neighborhoods. Geez I’m glad we don’t have those in Kansas!
Steve can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.