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Armadillos

In recent years armadillos have become a much more common sight in Missouri & Illinois.  There is much debate over whether or not armadillos should be considered native or exotic species, but in the end, they are here and they seem to be staying.  There are twenty different types of armadillos, but the only one that we see here in the Midwest is the nine banded armadillo.  Well known in Texas and Mexico, the armadillo survives by sleeping up to 16 hours per day, then at night foraging for bugs, worms, slugs, frogs and lizards but they will also take advantage of road kill that no one else has claimed for an easy meal.  Armadillos can smell their food through 8 inches of soil and they have sticky fly-paper type tongues that help them with catching prey and holding on to it.  In fact, armadillos should be a welcome visitor in the Midwest considering some of the very cool attributes this animal has to its credit.

Armadillo Odd Facts:

  • Armadillos can hold their breath up to 6 minutes!  This ability is to aide in foraging when their snout is buried for long periods of time digging for their next meal, but it sure helps out when they’re swimming too.
  • Armadillos love the water!  They swim quite well, and they have the ability to fill their intestines with air so that they float, or they can fill their intestines with water if they want to sink to the bottom of a lake or stream!
  • Armadillos only have about four teeth, and they are small peg-like molars with no enamel and open roots.  They really don’t have much of a bite.
  • It’s quite easy to sneak up on an armadillo.  They have terrible eyesight, but their sense of smell and hearing makes up for it.
  • Armadillos mothers have the ability to put off a pregnancy.  They may mate now but decide not to get pregnant until two years from now if they don’t feel ready until then.  Once they ‘allow’ themselves to get pregnant, they stay pregnant for 150 days, then give birth to quadruplets every time – always four babies, and always identical.  She either has four boys, or four girls, all born from the same fertilized egg, identical in every way.
  • Baby armadillos are born pink with softer shells than the adults.  Baby shells are more like a human fingernail in texture, and they gradually grow stronger between birth and six months.  Before they are even four months old they will turn from pink to brown, making it easy from a distance to tell if an armadillo is a juvenile or adult.
  • Armadillos have a very low metabolic rate, which means they don’t produce much body heat. This also means that they are not good at living in cold areas, because they can’t keep warm very well!
  • Armadillos don’t have a lot of body fat, so they must forage for food on a daily basis. Just a few cold days in a row can be deadly to an armadillo. Despite this fact, armadillos are steadily moving north.
  • Armadillos are used in leprosy research because their body temperatures are low enough for them to contract the most virulent form of the disease. They also do not have a very strong immune system, making them an ideal model for many types of medical research.

Armadillos & Cars

As with many of our native mammals (yes, armadillos are mammals!), armadillos often have trouble crossing busy roadways and this is where a lot of our armadillo calls come from.  Cars are the leading cause of death for these armored critters.  Contrary to popular belief, the nine banded armadillo cannot roll itself into a ball to defend itself against dogs, coyotes, foxes, etc.  The bony plates that make up their hard shell prevent them from being able to roll up, yet those plate do serve to protect the armadillo from other problems.  Having a built in armored cover is helpful when an armadillo is running though thick, thorny brush, or sharp rocks in the tunnels they dig, and it provides some protection from the sun.  Instead of rolling into a round defense posture when threatened, they have a fright response that causes them to jump – straight up.  This strategy might work against a fox or a coyote.  However, this defense mechanism fails miserably when it comes to car rushing towards them.  Often, the jump response equals an armadillo that hits the car directly on the front grill, the headlights, and sometimes they jump so high that they will roll across a car’s hood and into the windshield - which can really scare a driver!  If you have accidentally hit an armadillo, and you can still see it on/in the road, and it is still alive, please give us a call at the hotline so we can help.  If you come across an armadillo on the side of the road, probably hit by a car, but not by you, check to see that it is still alive, and call us at 1-855-WILD-HELP for further instruction.  Always wear gloves or use a towel or piece of cloth as a barrier in between you and the armadillo.  They can carry diseases that are transmittable to humans, so it is better to be safe than sorry!

Armadillos Digging In Your Yard

Most armadillo damage occurs as a result of their rooting in lawns, golf courses, vegetable gardens, and flower beds. Signs of armadillo activity are shallow holes, 1 to 3 inches deep and 3 to 5 inches wide, which are dug in search of food. They also uproot flowers and other plants. Reports of damage from their burrowing under foundations, driveways, and other structures are difficult to confirm as this same damage could be caused by groundhogs and skunks as well. It is extremely difficult to differentiate between armadillo dig holes and skunk dig holes, but it doesn’t really matter.  Skunks and armadillos are in search of the same food, and they often hang out together in the same areas.  Anything that you do to deter an armadillo from uprooting the yard will work just the same against skunks.

The best defense against armadillos digging up the yard is a good offense.  These animals are built for digging and burrowing.  Fencing and other barriers may work, but need to be installed with a portion buried under the ground to prevent armadillos from just digging under.  If you already have a fence in place and they are already digging under it, you can purchase metal tent stakes, or lawn stakes, or even rebar poles and drive them into the ground right at the fence line.  You will need to place the stakes about 2 inches apart and then drive them into the ground with a sledgehammer until the entire stake is under the ground.  This creates a sort of underground ‘cage’ that prevents the armadillo (or skunk!) from being able to dig under.

Other options focus on the armadillo’s amazing sense of smell.  Anything that smells really bad should deter an armadillo from digging and rooting around in that area.  Ammonia, vinegar, moth balls, tabasco sauce, and a product called Tree Guard reportedly work well when applied liberally and often.  If you have an armadillo digging up one specific area of your yard, you may have to consider treating the area for grub worms.  Grubs are a major attractant for both armadillos and skunks.  Once the grubs are gone, the armadillo will have little reason to come back to your yard.  Motion activated sprinklers work well also and they are available at Lowe’s and Home Depot for around $50.

Armadillos Living Under the Porch/Shed/Driveway

Just like groundhogs and skunks, the armadillos are busy little diggers.  We don’t get many calls about armadillo mother’s dens, but every once in a while it does happen.  The best solution for this is to exclude the animal and install a one-way door.  These doors can be found on www.livetrap.com or you can hire a company like Handyman Matters to build the exclusion and install the one way door for you.  These door allow for the animals to get out, but not back in.  Be careful during the months of April, May and June because there may be babies present, and you don’t want to trap them in when trying to catch Mom.  After you’re sure the armadillo has vacated, fill in the hole with loose soil, wait 48 hours to see if there is any movement, and then seal the hole with more dirt but mixed with pea gravel this time.  The gravel will make it more difficult for the armadillo to dig back in.  Remember though – it will make it more difficult – NOT IMPOSSIBLE!  It’s best to drive stakes under the ground, or use cement to permanently exclude an extreme digger like the armadillo.

Baby Armadillos

If you find a baby armadillo, the best thing you can do for it is to leave it alone. Odds are that most of the time the armadillo’s mother is nearby, and she will take care of the babies herself. If you know for sure that the mother has been killed by a car, etc. please call the wildlife hotline @ 1-855-WILD-HELP for further instructions.  Armadillo babies are EXTREMELY fragile and they die very easily.  Please do not attempt to raise them on your own.

For help with transporting babies to a wildlife rehabilitator in the safest possible way, click here to download our transport instructions.

Have more questions about armadillos?  Feel free to give us a call at the Wildlife Hotline to discuss the specific issues you might be having with these little armored critters.  We’re here 24 hours a day, seven days per week, so call anytime @ 1-855-WILD-HELP.