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6 varmints that we should embrace

By: Jaymi Heimbuch on March 12, 2013, 3:29 p.m.
Two raccoons peek out from a house's roof

Photo: Lorri Carter/Shutterstock

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Ah, raccoons. They steal the seeds out of bird feeders and eat the fish out of backyard ponds, they knock over trash cans and scatter the contents, they move into our attics and garages and make stinky messes, they ransack food sources from crops to campsites. And let's not forget they spread diseases like rabies and parvovirus. Raccoons can cause a good deal of trouble for rural, urban and suburban residents, but however pesky they may seem, they play an important and often thankless role in keeping ecosystems clean and healthy.

Raccoons are scavengers and therefore are an important part of cleaning up carrion. They also dine on many other species we consider pests when numbers get out of control, including snakes, frogs, lizards and rats. Raccoons don't stick just to meat — these omnivores also feast on berries and nuts, which in turn helps plants spread seeds. No matter how much of a mess these characters create, they also do a great job cleaning things up elsewhere.

The only thing is, there's not a lot that raccoons won't eat, and their voracious appetite of all things edible can pose a problem, which makes our next varmint all the more important.