Bill Starr: Learning to live with armadillos

Published 10:00 pm Tuesday, September 6, 2016

There is an old saying that if you can build a better mousetrap, the world will beat a path to your door. Well, what if somebody could come up with a sure way to catch armadillos? Just imagine if you will, sitting up late one night and watching TV only to see an infomercial for Dillo-B-Gon.
Armadillo! Just the mention of the name causes most people to cringe in anguish. If you want to start a conversation with someone you don’t know in South Georgia, just utter a phrase like “what do you think about them armadillos?” I can just about guarantee that if they haven’t had a personal experience with these critters they know someone who has. Our office receives numerous calls about controlling these very unusual creatures.
So how do you know if you have an armadillo problem? You know you have an armadillo problem when you are willing to run out of your house in your underwear at 2 a.m. in hopes of catching the crafty critter. You know you have an armadillo problem when your lawn or flowerbed looks like a miniature version of a bombing test site! You know you have an armadillo problem when your days are spent thinking of ways to cash in on our over-abundance of this sometime nuisance. For example, if you think that small stuffed armadillos would make an attractive pair of earrings, or possibly a nice ash tray, then you definitely have an armadillo problem. Can you imagine the demand for this critter if armadillo ball would catch on across the nation? For those of you that don’t know armadillo ball, it is a game very similar to football, only it is played with a dry-stuffed armadillos. Somehow over the last couple of weeks my yard has become armadillo Grand Central Station. I don’t know if armadillos stampede but they sure tried to at my house.
So, what really is an armadillo and what makes them tick? Armadillos are a unique group of animals that originated in South America. The armadillo is neither a rodent nor a marsupial, and no, they aren’t ‘possums in the half shell. Armadillos have shells made of true bone that cover their backs. Because their backs are covered with bone, armadillos are not very flexible. They rely on speed or their digging ability to escape danger. I am going to tell you a secret I bet you don’t know. Armadillos are built to dig. They have short, strong legs that are well suited to rapid digging, either for food or shelter. Armadillos prefer to eat various insects, especially beetles and grubs. This explains why they dig up your lawn or flowerbed.
Probably the most common question we receive is “How do I get an armadillo out of my lawn?” Unfortunately, there is no simple solution to this problem. Treating your lawn or flowerbed with an insecticide to kill grubs is one possible solution. Contact your local County Extension agent for suggestions. Trapping is another possible solution. I have talked to a lot of you that have had mixed results trying to trap armadillos. Baiting the trap with earthworms has been relatively effective for some people. If you use worms, put them in a nylon stocking; this will let the worm smell out without letting the worms escape. Fruit or cat food will also work, but you are more likely to catch a raccoon or your neighbors pet than you are an armadillo. Another method worth mentioning is taking advantage of the armadillo’s very acute sense of smell. Anything with a strong, noxious odor can help prevent an armadillo from making a mess of your flowerbed. Mothballs have been used with some success to deter armadillos. I have just recently learned that some armadillos find the smell of castor oil offensive. It is important to know this up front; none of these scent methods are proven scientifically. I am just offering suggestions that some of you have tried and had success with. If you try the castor oil, and it works, please let me know. If the castor oil method doesn’t work you can always drink the rest to cure what ails you.
In most parts of the world the armadillo is considered an endangered species. “Fortunately” for us, the nine-banded armadillo seems to be flourishing and expanding its territory every year. I know they are flourishing in my yard. Until someone develops a sure-fire method of control or a way to deter these determined diggers, we are forced to try to find ways to live with them. I understand that during the depression, armadillos were often eaten. The meat is said to taste like high quality pork! We maybe we have finally found a use for these critters after all. Just kidding!
Contact your local extension office if you have any questions.

Bill Starr is Sumter County Extension coordinator, University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Service. Contact him at 229-924-4476.