New York State IPM Program

Sandbox or Litterbox – You Decide

Raccoons are pretty cute, but you really don’t want them pooping on the property. Photo: Nell McIntosh

We don’t have to go to wild places to find wildlife. A surprisingly wide range of species can be found in our sities and towns, from familiar animals like the raccoon to more exotic ones like the mountain lion. – Roger Tory Peterson

When I was younger, raccoons were my favorite animal. It was hard to resist their clever little hands and cute bandit masks. My stuffed raccoon was named Rickie. Even when I was old enough to learn about rabies, my love didn’t wane. But then, when taking a wildlife rehabilitation workshop, I learned about Baylisascaris procyonis (raccoon roundworm), an intestinal parasite passed in raccoon poo.

The speakers at that workshop recommended using a blowtorch to kill the eggs of this intestinal parasite which, terrifyingly, can enter our eyes and nervous systems. The cuddly raccoon lost its place in my heart.

My love-hate relationship with raccoons came to mind when I saw the CDC has released a fact sheet on raccoon latrines and Baylisascaris procyonis. I do work quite a bit with school and child care facilities with their obligatory playgrounds. The CDC notes that “young children or developmentally disabled persons are at highest risk for infection, as they may be more likely to put contaminated fingers, soil, or objects into their mouths.” But they fail to point out that sandboxes can serve as a raccoon latrine. (It’s listed as a possibility here.) Of course, cats, which carry their own suite of parasites, are more likely to use sandboxes as their own personal litter box. It’s good IPM to prevent all types of animals from accessing your sandboxes.

The idea is good, but the implementation is lacking. Without securing the tarp, animals can easily slip under it. Photo: Joellen Lampman

No need to rid your property of sandboxes — indeed, there are sensory and group play opportunities with sandboxes (just Google “sand play activities”). But you must prevent animals from gaining access. Here’s how:

  • Keep sanitation a priority to avoid attracting wildlife – ensure that trash is cleaned up and put in a sealed container at the end of each day. (This will also help with other pests such as rats and yellow jackets.)
  • Have a “no food in the sandbox” rule – there is no need to provide an enticement for local animals to check out the box.
  • Have a solid box bottom — not only will this help prevent sand loss, but it keeps critters from burrowing in from underneath.
  • Have a durable cover on your box and make sure it is only uncovered during playtime.
  • Pest proof your buildings (including outbuildings) to reduce den sites. Raccoons will gladly set up facilities in your attic or garden shed.

    Sandbox with cover rolled back. Photo: Gil Garcia

    Tarp ties on the sandbox hold the tarp securely in place. Photo: Gil Garcia

If you find a latrine, check out the CDC fact sheet that includes information on cleaning it up while protecting your health. (Spoiler alert: they also recommend using a propane torch, since chemicals will not kill the eggs.)

Just a note that raccoon latrines can be found in other areas, including (yikes!) inside buildings. Be sure to pest proof your buildings to prevent raccoons (and squirrels and bats and birds) from making your building their new den. To keep wildlife out of your buildings and discourage them from your grounds, visit the NYS IPM Program web page: What’s Bugging You: Wayward Wanderers.

Author: Joellen Lampman

As the NYS IPM Program School and Turfgrass IPM Extension Support Specialist located in the Capital District, I spend my days educating about and conducting research on pests.

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