by Whit Gibbons

November 13, 2011

Q. I live in Tuscaloosa, Ala. One of my neighbors says his backyard is being dug up each night by armadillos. He thinks they are after grubs. Does that seem like a reasonable guess? How can he get rid of armadillos? Also, when did they become common in this area? I don't remember seeing them when I was growing up here in the 1950s.

A. An armadillo's food comes from beneath the ground, which they dig up with enormous shovel-like front feet. Your neighbor is correct that they are after beetle grubs living in the soil, along with any of the hundreds of other insects and worms they eat. They often focus their digging in soft soil, such as plant beds, gardens, or watered lawns. Armadillos also eat fire ants.

How to get rid of armadillos in suburban neighborhoods is becoming a more frequently asked question in the Southeast as these animals extend their geographic range. In the 1950s nine-banded armadillos were common in Louisiana and Texas, and a few had been released earlier in southern Florida. By the mid-1990s the Florida armadillos had moved up the Florida peninsula into Georgia, Alabama, and South Carolina. One biologist noted that "armadillos crossed I-20 going north in 1995."

If you can find an armadillo during daytime, removing it from an area is easy. Run after it, grab the long tail, and lift it off the ground. Armadillos do not see very well, so it is often easy to get close enough to catch them. I have never heard of an armadillo biting a person, but they do flail their feet trying to escape and can scratch. Let me qualify this message by saying I am not recommending this as a standard armadillo-removal technique for the average home owner.

The way to catch armadillos when they only come out at night is to put a live mammal trap in front of an active burrow. Armadillos dig underground tunnels to sleep in. Arrange a pair of boards on edge to form a funnel leading from the burrow opening into the trap. Steel mesh traps with a door that closes when the animal enters can be purchased from stores that sell wildlife equipment. If the trap is not securely built, an adult armadillo can rip it open with its powerful front feet. What do you do with a captured armadillo? Releasing it several miles away in a wild habitat is one approach. Be sure you do not introduce it into an area where it could become a pest to someone else.

Q. During early morning walks in late summer and fall, I see cobwebs on the grass. The webs come in various sizes, some rather large, and all seem to have a sort of funnel effect in the middle. What can you tell me about them?

These are probably some member of the family of funnelweb spiders, of which at least 300 species are found in North America. One of the commonly observed ones is the grass spider, which builds its sheetlike webs in open grassy areas including lawns. The spider constructs a web, which can be several inches across, with a funnel approximately in the middle. It hides out of sight until an insect lands on the sticky web and is unable to escape.

Funnelweb spiders are often black, brown, and white with light stripes down the back; they have long legs. They can be confused with wolf spiders except that at the hind end of the body the funnelwebs have a pair of relatively long extensions, called spinnerets, that are used to make the silk web. The webs of these spiders are especially beautiful on cool autumn mornings when they have collected dew that makes them sparkle in the sunlight. Although the spiders stay hidden within their funnel, a grass spider can sometimes be tricked to come out by blowing on the web or dropping a piece of grass on it. Their predatory response to what they think is a captured insect is almost instantaneous.

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