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Armadillos dig up big issues for landowners
STARKVILLE, Miss. -- It can climb, dig, swim and run, but in spite of its physical skills, the nine-banded armadillo is frequently roadkill.
You might not have even known it is a member of the mammal class. It bears very little resemblance to any other mammal in that it is not covered in fur or hair. Instead, it has nine bony armor rings covering the area between its shoulder and hip. Its long tail has an additional 12 bony rings.
Armadillos also have distinct, narrow heads and flat, pig-like snouts used to assist in digging. These animals are almost exclusively insectivorous, meaning their prey consists of insects. Many homeowners can detect the presence of armadillos by the shallow holes and rooting they leave behind when digging for food.
Because armadillos are nocturnal, or active at night, they easily stay hidden. Signs of rooting are sometimes the only indication the animal is present. During the day, they stay hidden in shallow, underground burrows around stumps, rock piles or dense woodlands.
One common place to see an armadillo, however, is usually dead on the side of the road. Armadillos have very poor eyesight, and, although they are agile runners, they often cannot see a car coming until it is too late. And unfortunately for them, their bony armor cannot withstand the impact of a vehicle.
Although the dense forests and loose, sandy soil of Mississippi are perfect habitats for the armadillo, this animal is not native to our state. Texas began to document armadillo presence along the Rio Grande Valley around 1849. By 1950, all of Louisiana, southern Oklahoma and Arkansas also had these armored mammals inhabiting their states. By 1970, armadillos were found throughout Mississippi.
Armadillo tracks are quite distinct, made by three long toes with sharp claws. Shallow holes and the appearance of “swirled” leaves, pine straw or soil are characteristic of armadillo rooting. Common places to see armadillo damage would be along driveways, on golf courses, and in lawns, vegetable gardens, flower beds and wooded areas. Armadillos may uproot flowers and vegetables in search of insects, and they can even be quite loud as they rub their bony plates along trees, houses and other structures.
The most costly damage created by armadillos occurs when they burrow under driveways, fencing, and house or outbuilding foundations. Some poultry farmers also report egg losses to armadillos, because this food source is high in nutrients and energy.
Before selecting a management method for armadillos, homeowners should be aware of certain behaviors and hazards. First, armadillos are efficient climbers, diggers and swimmers, so fencing barriers are not always the best methods to deter these animals.
Also, homeowners should take extreme caution when handling these animals, whether removing them from a trap or moving a carcass. Armadillos can be infected with the bacterium that causes leprosy. Although the transmission of this disease from armadillos to humans is relatively unstudied, there is a potential health risk.
When handling an armadillo, you should always wear gloves and protective clothing. Removing brush, rocks and dense cover in an area may discourage armadillos from burrowing and becoming established. Distributing soil or lawn insecticides will also remove the insect food source from an area and deter armadillos from digging or burrowing. However, in most cases, trapping or shooting may be the most effective and permanent methods for removing armadillos.
Live traps placed along pathways and baited with spoiled fruit or mealworms have been shown to be moderately successful. If you do opt for lethal removal, choose a time near dusk when armadillos begin activity, and always check your local firearm laws before shooting.
If armadillo damage persists, contact your local animal control for assistance. They can either help you directly or recommend an animal removal service.
Editor’s Note: Extension Outdoors is a column authored by several different experts in the Mississippi State University Extension Service.