Opossum on the half shell is one of the names that are given to the armadillo. But the one name that is used most often, that can be printed here, is pest.
The armadillo has been increasing in numbers in our area during the past three to four years. I saw my first armadillo in Columbia County six or seven years ago. It was about three years ago when I started getting calls on the damage that they are causing. This year, I will get five to six calls a week about them.
The armadillo is an interesting animal that has a protective armor of "horny" material on its head, body and tail. This armor has nine movable rings between the shoulder and hip shield. Some wildlife biologists say the proper name is the nine-banded armadillo.
The armadillo has a small, narrow head with a pig-like snout. It has no canine or incisor teeth. Instead, it has small, peg-like teeth. It has seven to nine teeth on each side of the upper and lower jaw. It has a long tapering tail that is circled by 12 bony rings. The armadillo is about the size of an opossum and weights between eight to 17 pounds.
The damage caused by the armadillo is small holes in the ground, three inches deep, and three to five inches wide. In our area, most of the holes will be two to three inches wide. The armadillos make these holes in search of insects and earthworms, which make up about 90 percent of an armadillo's diet. It also will feed on scorpions, spiders, and other invertebrates. There is some evidence that armadillos reduce the fire ant population by digging in the ant mounds and eating the larva and eggs of the fire ants.
The calls that I get about armadillos usually start with the caller saying that the holes in their yard appeared during the night. They keep an eye on the area during the day, but the next morning there are more holes. The armadillo is active from twilight hours through early morning hours in the summer. In the winter, it might be active only in the day.
The armadillo prefers dense, shady cover, such as brush, woodland forests and areas adjacent to creeks, rivers and other low land areas. The armadillo is a burrowing animal. It will dig a burrow seven to eight inches wide and many feet deep. In sandy soils, it has been reported that they can have burrows up to 15 feet long. The burrows are located in rockpiles, around stumps and brushpiles. Armadillos will have a number of dens in an area to use for escape.
Armadillos have poor eyesight, but they have an excellent sense of smell. It might look cumbersome, but they are very agile and can run well when in danger. The armadillo is a good swimmer and can walk across the bottom of small streams.
So how do you control armadillos?
There are a number of things that you can do to help deter armadillos, but I don't know if we will ever keep them out of our yards. First of all, there are no repellents, toxicants or fumigants that are labeled or work well on them, so we have to use other means to control them.
The first thing that we can do is to clean out the underbrush around our homes. This will cut down on the nesting and den sites.
The next practice is to exclude them from the area. You can do this by building a fence. The fence needs to be slanted outward at a 40-degree angle, because armadillos can climb, and a portion of the fence needs to be buried because of their digging.
The last practice that you can try is trapping. You will need a heavy-duty trap that is as least 10 inches by 12 inches by 32 inches. Armadillos are strong and can tear up a typical trap. The best place to put the trap is in their travel areas. You can increase the effectiveness of the trap by adding wings -- boards that are one by four inches or one by six inches. These boards need to be six to 12 feet long. The armadillo will funnel into the trap.
The last practice that we can try is to treat the area with an insecticide to remove the food source of the armadillo.
The damage caused by armadillos is usually localized and is more of a nuisance than economic damage.
Columbia County Extension Agent Charles Phillips can be reached at (706) 868-3413 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. The Extension Web address is www.ugaextension.com/columbia.
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