| USA TODAY
It’s a horror show you’d rather not watch this Halloween: your perfectly carved pumpkin savaged by local wildlife.
Yes, it is very possible that festive gourd you spent time cutting open, cleaning out and carving becomes a meal for deer or squirrels.
Not only do you have the frightening sight of a mangled jack-o’-lantern, but then you’ll have to fork over more cash to buy a new one.
In some parts of the U.S. this year, the threat to your jack-o’-lantern is heightened as the squirrel population appears to have grown faster than a zombie horde.
According to an Albany Times Union story from June, a wildlife expert with Cornell University’s Department of Natural Resources said a surplus of acorns combined with a milder fall and winter last season have allowed squirrels to flourish in the New York area.
The deer population is similar or higher in number to what scientists have seen in a couple of years, said Jeremy Hurst, a wildlife biologist with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Although het could not speak on whether the squirrel population is higher this year, he notes their numbers fluctuate depending on their food resources.
When trees produce “a lot of acorns, that’s a lot of food that can then lead to little increases in populations of the small mammals,” Hurst said.
On social media, several users have mourned the loss of their prized pumpkins.
So, what’s an autumn lover to do? Let’s lay out your options.
Buy a real pumpkin but guard your gourd
Prices vary depending on the size of the pumpkin, where you live, and where you buy them (a pumpkin patch versus the grocery store). According to the National Retail Report on specialty crops from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, pumpkins were selling at an average of $3.63, or 33 cents a pound. That price can go higher if you plan on going to places like the pumpkin patch.
Homeowners can try different methods for protecting pumpkins from wildlife, reports the Detroit Free Press, including a concoction featuring hot sauce, animal repellent, or – if you want to make your pumpkin extra spooky – blood meal.
Hurst said if animals have other food sources nearby, repellents can work at protecting pumpkins temporarily.
“The repellent only works as long as the animal is willing to let it work,” he said. “If they’re hungry enough, they’re going to go right past the repellant and get used to it and then consume it.”
As a bonus for buying a real pumpkin, when it comes to decorating, you have countless options beyond just etching a jack-o’-lantern face.
Pumpkin carving: This toolkit is the only one worth your money
Try something artificial
Many retailers offer pumpkins made of wood, resin, plastic, or other materials that provide the fall look you want without doubling as a meal for local creatures. The pumpkins are available at a wide range of prices depending on how much you want to splurge.
Options range between $5 and $35, according to a search for “artificial jack-o’-lanterns” on Google among several national retailers including Target, Walmart, and Michaels. You can even get some that light up just like your standard natural jack-o’-lantern.
The one downside: no elaborate carving designs. So, if you have a real problem with critters gnawing on your pumpkins, there’s always this backup option.
Follow Brett Molina on Twitter: @brettmolina23.