by Whit Gibbons

October 5, 2008

A friend in South Carolina recently asked me a practical question: "How do I get rid of an armadillo that's digging holes in my yard?" As armadillos expand their geographic range eastward from Louisiana and northward from Florida, more and more people will find themselves asking this same question. Armadillos have pretty much swept through most of the southeastern states in little more than a decade.

I explained that armadillos are relatively easy to catch by picking them up. By "relatively," I mean compared to, say, a raccoon or bobcat or even an unfriendly domestic dog or cat. Those animals will bite and scratch with conviction and good aim if you try to pick one of them up.

But armadillos, like possums, are manageable. I have caught both by running after them, grabbing the long tail, and lifting them off the ground. Armadillos do not see very well, so it is often easy to get close enough to run them down. Though possums can bite, I have never heard of an armadillo biting a person. With their small mouths and tiny peglike teeth, they probably would not hurt anyway.

Nonetheless catching an armadillo could have an unpleasant outcome. So some caution is necessary. Armadillos flail their feet trying to escape and can scratch if you do not keep your body parts out of the way. Biologists who work with armadillos occasionally get scratched by the claws on the animal's enormous front feet, which it uses for digging. Therefore, I do not recommend that you remove armadillos from your yard in this way. I am only telling you how it could be done.

Meanwhile, the friend under armadillo attack noted that he could not use that technique in any event because he had never seen an armadillo in his yard. He only saw the holes they dug. Armadillos are notorious hole diggers in their search for grubs, worms, and other underground creatures. They also dig burrows big enough for them to crawl into to sleep. The burrows may actually be labyrinthine affairs with more than one entrance. I told him they probably came out and wandered around mostly at night, although they are active during the daytime in many areas.

I contacted a colleague who has done considerable work with armadillos to find out other ways to catch an armadillo. Kim Marie Tolson, a wildlife biologist at the University of Louisiana at Monroe, agreed with my assessment that picking up armadillos is easy because they do not see well. She also had never heard of one biting a person. She indicated that the simplest way to catch armadillos when they are not seen out in the open is to put a live mammal trap in front of an active burrow. She suggested standing a pair of boards on edge to form a funnel leading into the trap. No bait is necessary, nor is it usually effective. Steel mesh traps with a door that closes when the animal enters can be purchased from stores that sell wildlife equipment. She noted that if the trap is not securely built, adult armadillos can rip it open with their powerful front feet.

Once you have captured your marauding armadillo, whether by hand or trap, what do you do with it? Releasing it several miles away in a wild habitat is one approach. Be sure you are not introducing it into an area where it could become a pest to someone else.

Kim Marie noted that armadillos prefer to dig in soft dirt, not simply because of the ease of digging in it, but also because the most accessible underground prey is found there. Thus, a frequently watered lawn, flowerbed, or garden provides an optimal place for digging. To make up for their poor vision, armadillos have a keen sense of smell and can readily track down grubs.

The good news about armadillos, which are close relatives of anteaters, is that they will eat fire ants. Anyone living in the Southeast should be glad to hear that news. Some might even think it is enough to compensate for a few holes in the yard.

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