The curious case of armadillo damage, and how to tackle it

Sometimes, it seems as though many questions that don't have great answers end up at the TAMU Extension office. And quite a few times over the past couple of weeks, armadillo damage has come up in such discussions.

Armadillos are native to the area that extends from southern Texas and much of the East Texas land for sale to the southeastern tip of New Mexico. You'd be hard-pressed to find armadillos in the Texas panhandle and further west than the Midland/Odessa region. They live as far north as the bottom corners of Kansas and Missouri, and can also be found in most of Arkansas, southwestern Mississippi, and even parts of Florida.

"Armadillos pose a considerable problem to farmers in southern Texas by damaging the soil."

Insects comprise the majority - 90 percent - of the armadillo diet. They love insects and their larvae, readily feeding on earthworms, scorpions, spiders and other invertebrates as well. Occasionally, they'll eat some fruit and vegetable matter such as berries and tender roots. 

Armadillos prefer areas exactly like what we have throughout much of Angelina County: dense, shady cover such as brush, woodlands, forests and areas adjacent to creeks and rivers. They are active primarily from twilight through the early morning hours in the summer. In really cold winters, they may be active only during the day.

Don't let its lumbering appearance deceive you: While the armadillo has poor eyesight, it possesses a keen sense of smell and is quite agile despite its strange shape, able to run adeptly when in danger. Also, armadillos can walk across the bottoms of small bodies of water, and swim fairly well at the surface.

Armadillos that come upon farms will use their narrow, pig-like snouts to root in lawns and flower beds for food, laying them to waste - which is when the question of "How can I get rid of them?" usually comes up. 

The curious case of armadillo damage, and how to tackle itThe armadillo, while a fascinating animal in many ways, is a huge pest for farmers.

You can identify armadillo damage as a triangular sort of hole in your lawn, one exactly the same size as one of these creatures' snouts. Such holes are shallow, usually 1 to 3 inches deep and 3 to 5 inches wide. They also uproot flowers and other ornamental plants. Occasionally, their burrowing under foundations, driveways and other structures can also cause damage on the surfaces of those areas. (As a quick aside: If it looks like someone took a garden tiller or plow to your lawn, that is more likely the work of wild hogs. We'll cuss them out on a different day.)

Getting rid of armadillos can be difficult. There are no registered repellents, toxicants or fumigants approved for use on soil that will deter them. One method I've heard about among fellow country living folks and put to use myself is placing liberal amounts of cayenne pepper around the affected area of the garden. Their noses may be too offended by the pungent spice to probe there. The problem is that the cayenne can easily be washed away with rain, and may simply drive the armadillos to a new site on your lawn! Earthworms and grub worms attract them, so be careful if you use earthworms to enrich your soil.

Trapping is possible, but requires skill and patience. Use a live or box trap with dimensions of at least 10 x 12 x 32. The best locations to set traps are along pathways to armadillo burrows and close to fences or other barriers where the animals may travel. If you're not sure which direction they are coming from, the best trap is the type that can be opened at both ends.

A trap's effectiveness can be enhanced by using several pieces of lumber, at least 6 feet long each, at each side to funnel armadillos into the entrance. Use whatever 4-inch or 6-inch wide scrap lumber you have. Interestingly, this set does not need baiting. However, I always recommend using some overripe or spoiled fruit. My good friend, a trapper named Greg Ashabranner, suggested bananas. 

It is legal to shoot armadillos, and a reasonable number of folks choose to go that route. But when I talked with my friend Buford, whose lawn has suffered from armadillo damage, Buford told me wasn't that interested in staying up all night to hunt the nocturnal creatures. 

Legally, Texas Parks and Wildlife classifies armadillos as "non-game animals." This means there's no closed season on these animals, and they can be hunted at any time using lawful means on private property. Interestingly, those rules also state the following: "Possession and sale of live armadillos is unlawful." So if you trap one, you have to let it go! And let's be clear: Lufkin City does prohibit the discharge of firearms, per Article 3, C. Supplemental Regulations, paragraph 2, (1), (B) of the Zoning Ordinances, located on pages 6 and 7. 

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Cary Sims is the County Extension Agent for agriculture and natural resources for Angelina County. Contact him via email - cw-sims@tamu.edu.