February 2007
Featured Articles

Armadillos: Controlling These Voracious Diggers

Few creatures seem to provoke anger quite like armadillos. They are voracious diggers that just love to see how much lawn area they can plow up in a night’s time. These armored mammals can also cause great damage to ornamental and fruit trees.

The burrows (which can run up to 25 feet long) often disturb and damage the root systems of trees and shrubs.  This burrowing activity also damages concrete slabs, creating air pockets beneath the concrete that weakens (and many times cracks) the foundation of homes and other buildings. Homes built off-grade (including mobile homes) are not immune to armadillo damage.  Their tunnels help create water run-off problems and often cause flooding beneath homes.

Armadillos are similar in size to a possum with a protective shell and a long snout. They have no teeth. Armadillos have a very strong sense of smell but poor eyesight.

They can even run and swim well. Frogs, baby birds, bird’s eggs, spiders, ants, insect larvae and a host of other invertebrates are favorite foods of armadillos.

Notably, they are one of the few animals who will take on fire ants. Armadillos continuously grunt while searching for food and appear not to be particularly attentive to their surroundings. In fact, if you hold still it may be possible to have a foraging armadillo actually bump into you.

Of the twenty species of armadillo that exist throughout the Americas, the nine-banded armadillo (dasypus novemcinctus) is the only one found in the United States, having colonized here from South America only within the last 150 years. The word Dasypus is derived from the Latin word for rabbit, Novem means nine and cinctus means band. Literally, it translates to "nine-banded rabbit." It is said that armadillos without their shells resemble rabbits.

Although armadillos have several unique characteristics that distinguish them from other mammals, the more than 2,000 bony scales that cover the head, legs and back are their most notable features. The Spanish word armadillo means "little armored one."

The "armor" of the armadillo is composed of bony plates covered by a leathery skin. Unlike some of his relatives, the nine-banded armadillo can’t roll up into a ball. His defense from predators is to either dig or enter an existing burrow or to press his unprotected belly against the ground with his legs tucked under his shields.

The nine-banded is the only armadillo who can swim, though, and—it’s not a myth—these armadillos may even hold their breath and walk along the bottom when crossing streams.

The armadillo mating season occurs during July and August, but implantation is delayed several months until about November. The normal litter size is four, all of the same sex and all genetically identical because the offspring are derived from a single egg.

Armadillo kits are born fully developed, but it takes several weeks for the pink leathery skin to harden into its lifelong protective covering. Armadillos are sexually mature at about one year of age and reportedly live for 12 to15 years.

CONTROL MEASURES

There are several wildlife control measures that can be used to rid yourself of nuisance armadillos: shooting, elimination of their food source, repelling or trapping.

Eliminate food source

Shooting is self-explanatory, but we’ll go over the other options. Most people will first try eliminating the insects or grubs in their lawn as their first step in ridding themselves of armadillos.

For instance, in certain areas of the Southeast, the presence of armadillos coincides with molecricket infestations in lawns.  If armadillos are digging in your lawn because you have a problem with these insects, go to your local Co-op for suggestions on what insecticide can be used or what other remedy is available.

After its food source disappears, the animal’s burrowing may actually increase for a day or so.  Remember that the armadillo is about as smart as a bag of rocks and it may take a few days for it to realize it needs to move on.

Repellants

Repellents work on some animals quicker than others and can sometimes be applied only once to gain the sought after results. But, armadillos are among the most stubborn of lawn pests and it might take several applications of a repellent or a combination of an insecticide and a repellent to get the job done.

Fencing

Fencing can be used to successfully exclude armadillos from your property. Armadillos are able climbers and skilled diggers, however, so any type of fencing must take these attributes into account. Bury the fence a foot or more down to deter tunneling and prevent "climb-overs" by including a rigid overhang that extends outward for a foot or more at about a 45° angle.

Trapping

A raccoon trap offered by your local Co-op store can be used to remove unwanted armadillos.  As mentioned, armadillos have fantastic noses but poor eyesight and are about as sharp as a ball bearing. They can be easily "channeled" toward and into a trap. The best location for trap placement is near the entrance of one of their burrows.

Place fence sections, rigid wire, flexible wire attached to temporary posts or pallets affixed to the ground, set on end around the burrow entrance such that the emerging armadillo will be forced to move in the direction of the channel formed by other panels of your fence.

Place the fencing to form the channel leading away from the burrow without the trap in place for a night or two before adding the trap to allow the armadillo to get accustomed to it. Then, set the trap door and place the trap at the far end of the fence channel. Make sure that the fence sections adjoining the trap overlap the trap on the outside edges next to the door.

Also, if the soil is uneven, it may be helpful to place a board, stone or soil under the trap so that the trap entrance is level and the armadillo will have no problem entering. Baits (earthworms, fresh fruit) are not necessary using this trap method, but can be placed inside the trap as an added attraction. Set the trap before dusk and check it in the morning.

Captured armadillos can be released back into the wild some miles from the capture site or disposed of humanely.

NOTE: Before you handle an armadillo, remember that they have strong claws and can carry infectious diseases. When startled, an armadillo can jump straight upward three to four feet into the air. This reflex may help scare off predators in the wild but has also caused broken noses and teeth in unsuspecting humans. These animals are wild and should be treated as such. One should never attempt to handle or keep them.