Q and A: Armadillos are tearing up our yard. What can we do to alleviate this problem?

from K., in Cape Coral

It seems that many people have been having this same problem. I have received at least twenty calls in the past two weeks asking about armadillos and how to catch them or prevent the destruction of lawns. Our present day nine-banded armadilloDasypus novemcinctus, is an unusual looking mammal that is slate gray or brownish black with its body covered with a shell made of horny plates joined by leathery skin. These creatures have a long pointed nose, large ears, small eyes, and usually are twelve to eighteen inches long, weighing five to fifteen pounds. Armadillos have poor eyesight and hearing, but have a keen sense of smell. They are agile runners, good swimmers and can walk underwater across small canals. The armadillo is found in uplands throughout Florida, with the exception of the Keys, and is very adaptable to urban landscapes.

Armadillos breed late in July, and give birth in February or March. This may help explain the recent increase in armadillo activity. The armadillo always has four young of the same sex in its litter. Most armadillos are inactive during the day. During these hours, they inhabit dense shady cover or rest in deep burrows. These burrows are usually located under brush piles, stumps, rock piles, dense brush, or concrete patios. A burrow is about seven to eight inches in diameter and up to fifteen feet long. Armadillos become more active during the late evening, night or early morning. During this time they feed on ants, grubs, and earthworms. Armadillos usually root or dig in ground litter in search of food, but will occasionally eat berries and mushrooms. Since armadillos eat insects, they are somewhat beneficial, but they can be a problem for landowners and property managers. They dig up lawns, plant beds and excavate several burrows throughout their habitat. Burrows in pastures can be dangerous for humans and livestock.

Control methods include insecticide treatments of the soil, creating barriers, trapping, or shooting. Insecticides may restrict food sources, but will not always keep the armadillos from digging. In some cases, activity has increased as the creatures continue to search for food. Where highly valued plantings exist, small fences may be used to keep the animals out. These fences should be about twenty-four inches high with half of the fence buried below the surface. Trapping in raccoon sized cages is the most effective, humane way to eliminate armadillo problems. Keep in mind that you may move the animal and create a problem for someone else or upset the natural balance of the receiving area. Traps should be located close to the burrow and baited with earthworms and surrounding soil. Placing bait and soil in nylon stockings or plastic containers with holes poked through will allow the armadillo to smell the bait. Contact me for other live trapping techniques. Some armadillos can be discouraged from returning by filling in burrows with dirt and mothballs after you are sure they have left for the night. Finally, shooting is another method, but only in locations where it is legal to discharge a firearm. Armadillo meat is edible and there is no bag limit or season on them. It is illegal, however, to use artificial lights to aid in the shooting of armadillos at night. Finally, poison baits are illegal and ineffective.

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