Henry County Animal Care & Control
Wild Animals: Armadillo
Of the 20 varieties of armadillo (Dasypus novemcinctus) all but one live in Latin America. The Nine-banded armadillo is the only species that includes the United States in its range. Armadillo is a Spanish word meaning “little armored one” and refers to the protective bony plates that cover the armadillo’s back, head, legs, and tail. In the 1900’s, the Nine Banded Armadillo was only found in eastern Texas. However, it quickly spread to other areas, including Georgia. There are a number of reasons why this has happened, from development of cities forcing the animals to other areas, to climate change. Another reason why these animals have flourished, and possibly the biggest reason, is the lack of predators. The armadillo is highly protected by its thick, scaly armor, and proves to be a difficult source of food for any other animal.
Armadillos are the only living mammals that wear such shells. Closely related to anteaters and sloths, armadillos generally have a pointy or shovel-shaped snout and small eyes. Their bodies are 15-17 in length with a tail that is almost just as long. They weigh between 8-17 pounds. Baby armadillos have soft shells, like human fingernails. They get harder as the animal grows, depositing bone under the skin to make a solid shell.
Armadillos are mainly nocturnal, especially during the hot summer months, but in winter can be seen during the day. Their basic diet consists of insects, grubs, roots, and carrion (dead animals). Armadillos have poor eyesight and rely on their ears and noses to detect food or predators.
Armadillos are quite good at swimming. They have a strong dog paddle, and can even go quite a distance underwater, walking along the bottom of streams and ponds. They can hold their breath for four to six minutes at a time. When they need to cross larger bodies of water, they swim across. Because their heavy shell makes it hard for them to float, they gulp air into their intestines to felt them float.
Armadillos have very few teeth — just several peg-like molars. Since they primarily eat insects, they don’t have to do a lot of heavy chewing, making big, strong teeth unnecessary. Like most insect eating mammals, armadillos have a very long, sticky tongue to slurp up bugs as quickly as possible. They also are equipped with strong claws to tear open ant nests.
With no fur, a very low metabolic rate, and little body fat, armadillos can’t keep themselves warm so they cannot survive in cold areas. Just a few cold days in a row can be deadly to them.
When an armadillo is frightened, it doesn’t run, it jumps straight up in the air. Coupled with their poor eyesight, this accounts for why so many armadillos are killed by vehicles.
The armadillo usually digs a burrow 7 or 8 inches in diameter and up to 15 feet in length for shelter and raising young. Burrows are usually located in rock piles, around stumps, brush piles, or terraces around brush or dense wooded areas. Armadillos often have several dens in an area to use for escape. Baby armadillos are born in a nest within the burrow. The female produces only one litter each year in March or April. The litter always consists of 4 babies and they are always the same sex.
Most armadillo damage occurs as a result of their rooting in lawns, golf courses, vegetable gardens, and flower beds. Characteristic 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 ornamental plants. Some damage has been caused by their burrowing under foundations, driveways, and other structures.
There are a few ways to protect your property from damage due to armadillos:
- Since armadillos have the ability to climb and burrow, fencing or barriers help to keep them at bay. A fence slanted outward at a 40 degree angle, with a portion buried, can be effective.
- Armadillos prefer to have their burrows in areas that have cover, so the removal of brush or other such cover will discourage them from becoming established.
- Since most of the damage armadillos cause is a result of their rooting for insects and grubs in the soil, insecticides may be used to remove their food source and make areas less attractive to them.