Animals and Rodents in That Yurt: A Story of the Food Chain

One common question about yurts is if animals can get in, and if we’re worried about that possibility. People seem to be especially concerned about whether yurts are bear-proof (a fair question).

Bears and Yurts

In Vermont, we only have to think about black bears, which are skittish enough around people (and our dogs) that we’re not concerned at all. And we know plenty of people living in yurts in grizzly country for whom it’s not a significant concern. The wood lattice walls are strong enough to prevent any forced entry, though they could do some damage to the canvas exterior. I do think that if we lived around grizzlies we would opt for a different door—i.e., one that is not entirely glass.

Rodents and Yurts

When it comes down to it, though, the only animals that realistically could get inside are rodents—mice and rats. And we’ve had experiences with both.

When we first put up the yurt, we didn’t have any rodent problems. In short, because they hadn’t yet discovered us. But eventually a family or two or three of mice realized we had built, presumably for them, a sheltered space from the elements with insulation in the floor for them nest in and, when we were less than diligent, free food to gorge on.

So began our war with the mice. We tried the “humane” traps but only ever caught one—not near enough efficiency to get a mouse population under control—so eventually had to switch to kill traps.

There was an extended period (months) when the mice were especially prolific procreators and we were trapping a mouse every single day. It became part of our morning routine: wake, let the dogs out, put on coffee, empty the mouse trap.

The population waxed and waned. That period eventually gave way to more sporadic but still regular trappings. Mice were simply a part of our life, no matter how conscientious we were about keeping food put away.

Our relationship with the mice did not feel oppressive. We knew exactly where their entry point was: where the sink drain exits the yurt, it pushes the canvas out from the platform enough for them to get in. So we could keep the trap there and get them before they wandered around the entire yurt. In this way, their presence and their poop was confined to a single area under the sink. This was manageable.

Then we got a rat. Annie didn’t believe me at first, but I’d woken up to louder ruckuses, shined the headlamp and saw what, to me, was unmistakeable. (I had pet rats for a spell. I know a rat from a mouse, thankyouverymuch.) It was particularly destructive—chewing through the heavy duty plastic tub we kept dog food in; chewing through a string of LED lights for some inexplicable reason.

We couldn’t catch it. It was too smart. We tried rat traps, we eliminated food, we replaced the plastic dog food tub with a metal can. The rat persisted. And it was fearless, coming in at night, scrounging around, making an absurd amount of noise. Ultimately we had to resort to poison, and had to keep the dogs out of the yurt for several days—to keep them away from the poison, but also to keep them from finding a dead and poisoned rat and eating it. Soon enough the rat was gone, and luckily it was a loner without family for the “survived by” part of its obituary.

Still, the mice. We had found a rhythm, a sort of equilibrium. Their presence was annoying but we could abide.

The Winter of the Ermine

Enter the natural world. Just as the mice had discovered the shelter and security of under-the-yurt, an ermine this winter discovered the bounty of prey, the under-the-yurt buffet. Voracious hunters, and beautiful in their sleek white coats, ermine devour mice.

I saw this ermine one day in the shed. I knew its reputation. And sure enough, within a week of its new residency, our mice were gone. Not diminished, but gone. The ermine had either eaten them all, or at least eaten enough to scare the rest away.

Such is the world. It is amazing.

In summary: do not worry about bears; you will likely have mice; hopefully you can avoid rats; and hopefully, when the mice find you, it is not long until the next creature up the food chain finds them.

One more note in closing: this same winter of the ermine has become the winter of the barred owl, who has taken up residence around the yurt. A friend saw it devouring a squirrel. And I can only assume that that owl is also helping us keep the mice at bay, even as it picks off the red and gray squirrels getting fat on our compost.