If you own a home in the northern United States or Canada, you probably have seen armadillos only in the zoo, in a book, or on your favorite wildlife program on TV. Residents of Texas, Florida, and southern states in between, however, know the armadillo only too well. In fact, they may have the squat, armor-plated little digger, and his friends and relatives, inhabiting the back yard, crawl space under a deck or garden area where grubs and insects, an armadillo’s top menu choice, can be found in abundance.
While these odd-looking critters aren’t going to threaten your kids, fight with the cat or dog, or infect you with a deadly disease (The Center for Disease Control in Atlanta, Georgia says talk about armadillos and leprosy is unfounded), they can move right into your property, burrowing through beautiful lawns and feasting on vegetable gardens.
Also, when their populations become too large in number, armadillos are frequent road kill, posing a hazard and sanitation nuisance on the highway. Short of too drastic solutions such as shooting or poisoning, which are illegal in many states anyway, what’s a conscientious home owner to do to rid his property of these pests?
As it turns out, there are some sensible do-it-yourself options and also recourse to professional help in the way of experienced trappers. In addition, people who have lived with armadillos (without really wanting to) have developed ways to keep them off their property, or at least, to limit their number. So, if you are concerned about armadillos and what to do with them, it’s wise to know a little about the armadillo, its habits, and why it does what it does.
What Are Armadillos?
Armadillos are four-footed, armor-plated mammals, similar to the sloth and the ant eater. They are usually a brown, black or salmon color. The type of armadillo living in the southern United States is called the 9-banded Armadillo (Dasypus novemcentus)–so named because of the 9 exterior plates girdling the animal’s mid-section. Despite these stiff plates of armor and their characteristic chubby shape, armadillos are surprisingly quick, agile and flexible. They are adept at swimming and walking underwater on stream beds.
The 9-banded Armadillo is not a big creature as it is comparable in size to a small dog or medium-sized cat. Typical height is 6 to 10 inches, and its length can be 2 to 3-1/2 feet. Weight can range from 6 to 14 pounds or so. By way of comparison, the South American armadillo is called the Giant Armadillo and for good reason, too, because it can weigh up to 60 to 70 pounds.
Armadillos are nocturnal animals, meaning they are awake at night and sleep during the day. They have very poor eyesight and hearing, but to make up for these deficits, they possess phenomenal senses of smell. Definitely not aggressive by nature, armadillos like to quietly go about their business of enjoying the fresh water, grubs, and insects that a nice back yard habitat can provide. (So, they actually do provide an element of pest control while they are being pests themselves.)
Equipped with strong legs and sharp claws, armadillos are perfectly designed for digging very elaborate systems of burrows, complete with entrance and exit holes. Many of these burrows can measure up to 15 feet in length and number as many as 30 in the home network or range that armadillos share in community with each other. The armadillos are plenty clever enough to have the burrows organized into 4 distinct categories:
- main burrow
- sleeping quarters
- nursery ( A female will have have one litter of 4 males OR 4 females annually.)
- exit or escape route
While the burrows are not enormously high, their presence is distressingly noticeable on a well-kept lawn, golf course green or carefully cultivated flower or vegetable garden. Usually, burrows are 7 to 8 inches in in diameter, nicely accommodating the girth of the adult 9-banded Armadillo. In addition, their burrows are networked, and many armadillos will share a home base.
Armadillos are not territorial creatures, however, and can willingly roam from place to place depending on availability of food, water, and soil they can most readily excavate. So, if a home owner has gotten one or more armadillos off his or her property, it would be smart to keep the anti-armadillo plan in place. Where some armadillos used to be, more of the animals are sure to follow.
These hard-working foragers also enjoy living under porches and shed foundations. The females like to use crawlspaces for birthing and rearing their young. A fisherman’s bucket of dirt and freshly caught night crawlers is exactly what an armadillo would love to find during a night time raid.
How to Prevent Armadillos from Settling on Your Property
To stop an infestation of armadillos or to keep these persistent animals from returning to your garden, grass, garage or porch, capitalize on the armadillo’s natural tendencies and physical characteristics. Here are some tried and true methods for keeping armadillos away:
- Build a fence around your property–at least in the areas you are trying to protect. Because this animal can wiggle through small spots and because he can expertly dig through most any kind of soil, bury the fence at least a full foot under the dirt. This will dissuade the armadillo’s burrowing instinct. The top of the fence should be at a 45 degree angle to the ground to prevent the animal from hopping the barrier.
- Use chicken wire to protect valued landscape plants. Circle shrubs and flowering plants with chicken wire at least 24 inches high and 12 to 18 inches under ground. While armadillos are not looking to feast on these botanicals, their burrows will destroy important root systems and tip the plants right out of the soil.
- Install chicken wire along house, utility shed and garage foundations, burying it in the same manner. Wooden lattice can work, too.
- Fill-in any existing holes in the ground. Some people suggest a mixture of soil and moth balls because armadillos hate the smell of this insect repellent.
- Use the armadillo’s incredible nose to your advantage by placing several areas of “stink” around your property. Experts suggest strong-smelling substances such as vinegar, ammonia, Pine-sol household cleaner, pine needles or pine cones, moth balls and, of all things, human hair.
How to Get Rid of Armadillos Yourself
If you find yourself to already be plagued with armadillos, have evidence of their burrows and have sited them during their times of nocturnal activity, don’t worry. Many do-it-yourselfers are able to successfully rid their homes, yards, and outbuildings of these underground creatures.
It is important to note, however, that the trapping of armadillos by amateurs is prohibited in the states of Texas and Florida. So, before undertaking your own plan, be sure to check with your town’s animal control officer to see what you are allowed to do under the law in your area. As previously stated, armadillos are not aggressive animals; so don’t worry that, as you work through a plan of trapping that you will be in danger of life and limb. However, any animal, including armadillos, may act out if cornered.
First of all, as a prospective armadillo trapper, you should make a trip to your local feed store, or check on-line for a quality raccoon cage trap. These cages are usually constructed of strong, galvanized steel wire, with a trap door at one end that is spring-activated when the animal enters the apparatus and steps on the floor. Experts suggest setting the tension of the spring high so that smaller, lighter animals, such as mice, do not enter the cage and set off the mechanism.
These cages are not overly large, measuring 30 inches long, 12 inches high and 10 inches wide. They fit nicely against the foundation of a house where armadillos typically dig their homes. Make sure the soil is level so that when an armadillo triggers the trap, the cage stays flat and does not tip over. Quality traps have smooth, rolled edges on the interior so that any animal, including raccoons and possums, do not snag their skin and fur on any sharp metal.
Regarding luring armadillos into the cage, people use items that armadillos find tasty and appealing such as cut-up fruit or earth worms in a thin canvas bag or knotted panty hose. Trappers say that tapping into the animal’s natural instinct to work a bit for his dinner is helpful as well. So, try placing vittles in a short length of 2- to 3-inch PVC pipe, and wire it to the inside wall of the trap, up near the top.
Because armadillos do their work at night, set your traps at dusk, and check them in the morning. You will find your inhabitants basically unscathed, and you can safely lift the traps from the area, using the carry handle on the top of the cage. Immediately relocate the armadillos to a wooded area at least 5 miles from your home. Again, consult with your local animal control officer for suggestions on where to release the animals safely and legally.
Once the armadillos are gone, be sure to back fill the entrances and exits from the burrows with well-compacted soil, and use some of the mentioned armadillo-preventatives to keep the little guys from coming back.
What About Professional Armadillo Trappers?
When prevention fails and your yard is infested by one or more armadillos, it may be best in the long run to invest in a professional animal removal service. These wildlife experts are not simply exterminators but individuals who have been trained and licensed in the humane removal of all kinds of animals which are co-inhabiting with human beings. These animals can include mice, raccoons, rats, bats, opposums, bees, wasps, squirrels, chipmunks, birds, and reptiles of various kinds.
The advantages of using such a service are many, including:
- evaluation of the extent of the infestation (including crawlspaces, gardens, foundations)
- recognition of signs peculiar to armadillos, including the construction and location of their burrows, droppings and what may be left over after the animal forages and eats
- specific plans on how to bait and trap the armadillos
- proper setting and baiting of traps in the correct locations and at the right time of day
- return to the home at the right time of day to inspect traps
- 24/7 availability for most days of the year
- relocation of the animals without harming them and according to the local rules and regulations of your town
- using accurate methods of blocking the burrows to stop infestation with new armadillos (fencing, insecticides, filling holes)
If you have determined to hire professional assistance, be sure to check the credentials of the company you are hiring. The company must have the correct licensing, liability insurance, and workers’ compensation as required by your state of residence. Find out what their educational background is and what professional associations related to wild life the trappers may have.
In addition, understand the trappers’ price structure before you hire the company. Do they charge per trap or per animal trapped? Is the relocation fee included in the bottom line, or is it extra? As with any work done on your home, get an estimate of the charges in writing beforehand
Make an Armadillo Removal Plan, and Work It
While infestation with armadillos is a nuisance and destructive to the property you work so hard to maintain, don’t rush headlong into controlling these armor-plated foragers without first making a plan. Do some on-line research, and check to see what neighbors have done or are doing regarding their little invaders. Chances are that if you have problem armadillos, people in the neighborhood do, too.
Lastly, go for the humane solution–whether you remove the critters or leave it to the professionals. Armadillos are part of nature’s complex web of benefits to the environment and to man. Preventing infestation, trapping, and relocation of animals preserves your home and the part armadillos play in the natural world.