Aw, Nuts! Squirrels Ate My Christmas Lights

March 24, 2015

As the snow melts away, everyone gets spring fever! If you’re just now taking down your Christmas lights as part of a spring-cleaning initiative, you may have thought neighborhood vandals picked your yard to demonstrate their spring fever. That’s what one of our customers thought when he found cut cables and damaged bulbs!

LED light strings gnawed by squirrels

LED light strings gnawed by squirrels. Used with customer’s permission.

While vandalism can certainly cause havoc for your outdoor decorating, in springtime it’s important to consider another possible bandit: rodents. Squirrels, chipmunks, and even rabbits (though not technically rodents, but lagomorphs) are famous for their chewing and storing behaviors, and your Christmas light strings may pose an irresistible temptation. The ground is just starting to thaw, so while food sources are still scarce our furry “friends” mistake lights for nuts to be plucked from their wires. Unfortunately, the bulbs don’t turn out to be tasty treats, and your light display is ruined. If your rodent problem continues, you may have to take more extreme measures, including extermination. If you do consider this course of action, you may want to check out a professional exterminator such as Des Moines pest control who can clear your problem for you. It probably doesn’t make you feel better to know you’re not alone: the Cincinnati Zoo’s holiday lighting efforts were thwarted by the little grey creatures. A New Jersey Man caught a squirrel in the act of A Denver man caught a rabbit in the act of lighting destruction.

And this homeowner captured a thieving squirrel on video:

Holiday landscapers of the famed San Antonio (TX) River Walk was stunned by the thousands of dollars in damage caused by squirrels gnawing on LED wires. Even anticipated replacement costs were no match for the rodents’ handiwork.

Deterring Squirrels from Chewing Your Lights

When your decorating shares a habitat with the cute but destructive creatures, how you can come to a mutually-beneficial (humane) “agreement”?

  • Surface deterrents: if you decorate a tree or rooftop that a squirrel can’t jump to from another tree or high surface, you can wrap a 2’ band of metal around the tree approximately 6’ off the ground. This should be temporary during decorating season, so as not to damage the tree.
  • Chemical repellants: products containing Thiram, capsaicin, oil of mustard, or even soap can keep squirrels away. Orange or lemon peels, garlic, and predator urine are other suggested remedies. You might be tempted to try the old standby, mothballs, but the pesticides they contain are considered very dangerous, and it can even be illegal to use them in certain circumstances. Obviously some recommended solutions are more appealing than others! Oh, and Cincinnati Zoo staff tried hot sauce, but apparently Ohio squirrels get used to the pungent stuff.
  • Water sprinklers: motion-activated sprinkler deterrants may be an option, especially for tree-trunk and bush/hedge lighting, and if your climate supports it.

Protecting Indoor Pets

Pepper, the Mini Rex Rabbit

Pepper, a happy house rabbit. Used with permission.

Outdoor creatures aren’t the only ones likely to chew on cords and cables. If you have a house rabbit, guinea pig, ferret, or other small exotic animal, protecting Christmas lights from their teeth (and the pet from electric shock hazard) is also critical. If you added such a pet to the family at Christmas, or are looking to adopt an Easter bunny, a proper habitat will keep everyone (and everything) safe, but any pet with a chewing tendency can be kept safer with some precautions.

  • An appropriate habitat will provide refuge and safety while reducing access to inappropriate chewing. Consult your vet or other reputable organizations, like the House Rabbit Society.
  • Does your rabbit, ferret, or other small animal have playtime outside of its habitat? Make sure playtime is always supervised to keep your pet safe.
  • Wire coverings: conduit or split tubing may offer additional protection for LED string light wires. CritterCord offers cable protectors infused with citrus scent and a bitter flavor. You might even try protective products like this with your outdoor lights, especially if your local squirrels dislike citrus.

Recovering from Lighting Destruction

If your LEDs have suffered at the teeth of rodents or pets, you may choose to repair them with an LED light repair tool. Or this may be a good time to recycle your old lights (LED or incandescent) and replace or add to your collection. We’ll even email you a coupon for 15% your next purchase when you recycle with us!