Common Houston-Area Varmints to Watch Out For

This coyote was spotted in Arizona, but its cousins are a common enough sight in the Houston area.
This coyote was spotted in Arizona, but its cousins are a common enough sight in the Houston area. Dru Bloomfield via Flickr
As we've mentioned in our ongoing exploration of the flora and fauna in and around Houston, this can be a very wild place to live. In a city composed of steel and concrete, nature finds a way and plenty of critters make their homes here or trek in from the surrounding wilderness. Whether they're living around our bayous or making their homes somewhere else in H-Town, lots of critters live side by side with us every day. Let's take a look at the most common ones, and learn how best to get along well with our neighbors from the wild.

These little masked dudes are one of the most frequently spotted varmints around Houston, because our garbage cans are a never-ending buffet for them. Raccoons are generally not vicious, but they often carry dangerous diseases, including rabies. For that reason, it's best to keep pets away from them, and to lock down garbage containers really well.

Mostly harmless marsupials that pose little threat to people and most city pets, possums get a bad rap. As with the raccoon, the riskiest thing about encountering one is the possibility that it's carrying a disease; however, possums have a lower than average chance of carrying rabies compared to other wild mammals. Possums are everywhere in and around Houston and, as with raccoons, keeping garbage away from them is probably the best way to keep them out of your yard. I do know a woman who had one crash through her ceiling and into the bed she was sleeping in, but that says more about crappy Austin rent houses in the '90s than it does about the potential danger of a possum.

Houston is home to 11 bat species, providing an ideal place for Dracula's favorite flying mammals to live. A huge colony roosts under the Waugh Bridge in the Heights, and lots of people enjoy watching them come and go around dusk. It's not uncommon to see them flitting through the air hunting insects, and as with all the animals on this list, it's important to understand that they have a place in preserving the ecological balance in the region. Bats are normally harmless, but they can transmit rabies, so bites must be taken seriously. Fortunately, it's easy to avoid being bitten by bats under most circumstances, but people should avoid approaching them or picking up one that's on the ground.

It may be hard for some folks to believe, but Houston provides a good home to many coyotes. The medium-size canids adapt well to life in the city, and despite a reputation for snatching small pets, they usually tend to stick to a natural omnivorous diet of wildlife (such as rats) and garbage. Even though they pop up occasionally in almost every neighborhood in Houston, it's unlikely that coyotes will attack a person or his pet, but it's best to report any sightings to animal control while keeping small dogs and cats inside at night. Coyotes can be cute, but as with the other critters on this list, it's a bad idea to try to handle them.

I've heard that if you live in a big city, you're never more than ten feet from a rat. As disturbing as that might be to many of us, I don't doubt it; it's not unusual to spot one scampering across the road at night or busting out of a dumpster. It is probably redundant to mention the potential risks associated with rats and mice, but they carry some bad diseases, and aren't creatures any of us want swarming in or around our homes. Fortunately, a lot of the other varmints on this list keep these rodents' numbers under control to a certain degree, so rats don't usually endanger human life around here.

Plenty of other wild creatures live in Houston and the surrounding areas, sparking reactions from "Oh, it's cool to see one of those" to "Get away from that thing" on the encounter scale. These wild neighbors include skunks, foxes, bobcats, snakes, lizards, turtles, alligators, deer, armadillos, squirrels, hawks and owls. Looking at the animals that make their way into the city, it becomes obvious that Houston is a wild place in many ways.
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Chris Lane is a contributing writer who enjoys covering art, music, pop culture, and social issues.