By Kevin Tate/Outdoors Writer
If an area of your yard that had previously been smooth suddenly appears to have suffered a barrage of miniature mortars, chances are the culprit was a nine-banded armadillo.
Nine-banded armadillos arose as a species in South America and first appeared in Texas after 1850. Today they’re found throughout the South and Midwest in surprising numbers. According to wildlife biologists, the rapid expansion of their range is due to a combination of factors, including man’s alteration of the habitat, elimination of large predators and the intentional release of captive armadillos.
Official guidance on how to control armadillos on your property is not encouraging. Most such advice begins with words to the effect of, “Get used to them,” but there are some things that can be done to keep them out of your lawn, where they dig for grubs and insects. Keeping them out of your turkey and quail habitat, where they eat eggs, isn’t nearly as simple.
Armadillos are mammals and are born in litters of four. Females begin reproducing at age 1 and typically have one litter per year throughout their lifespan, which averages 12 to 15 years.
Few natural predators
Other than automobiles and coyotes, they have no predators in their environment besides man. Their outer shell, or carapace, is made from a keratin substance similar to human fingernails.
Although armadillos run well and burrow quickly to escape harm, their natural response to being startled can also include jumping three to four feet straight up, a practice that does not serve it well when crossing roads.
Generally, armadillos eat grubs, beetles, ants and worms, but they will also eat carrion as well as eggs. They find food through an acute sense of smell.
Controlling or at least discouraging armadillos from digging in lawns can be affected by using pesticides to eliminate the food they’re hunting when they dig. Fencing can help, but fences must extend below ground level to be effective and, even then, the depth of the fence must reach beyond the depth to which an armadillo is willing to dig – a subject determined individually, one armadillo at a time.
Eliminating the food source isn’t an option for wildlife land managers, of course, since it’s the armadillo’s food source they’re trying to protect. In these situations, trapping and shooting are the only effective options, options made potentially hazardous by the fact that armadillos can carry leprosy.
Leprosy can be communicated from armadillos to humans by contact or by eating undercooked armadillo meat. Safe handling is a must and, once all the factors are considered, perhaps the scientists’ first advice is also their best advice:
Might as well get used to them.