dillo.gif (1244 bytes)Armadillo Questionsdillo.gif (1244 bytes)

1. How do I stop an armadillo from tearing up my property?

It really depends on what part of your property you are trying to protect. If it is a small area, like a flowerbed, you can sprinkle mothballs to keep the animals away. They don't like the smell. If you are talking about your whole yard, the only really effective solution is to put up a fence, buried at least 1 foot into the ground to prevent them from tunneling under. This is not an elegant solution, nor is it an inexpensive one, but it is the only way you can be really sure that your yard will not become an armadillo's insect buffet. Other remedies (not as foolproof, but less expensive) include leaving your dog chained up outside at night, to scare off potential lawn-wreckers, and leaving out food at a different spot to lure them away from your lawn. Of course, you are then either stuck with a barking dog all night, or the expense of maintaining an armadillo feeder that is sure to attract all kinds of neighborhood wildlife. If you live in armadillo territory, you will get armadillos in your yard; that's the risk you run.


2. How can I remove a problem armadillo from my property?

Removing an armadillo that has burrowed in your yard or under your house can be quite a problem. You must first evict the animal from its den, and then close up the hole so it can't return. Throwing mothballs down the hole can help encourage the armadillo to come out. You can place a live trap over the opening, so that it will be caged as it emerges; make sure you release it well away from your property so it won't find its way back. If you are trying to trap it in the yard, you can use earthworms in a nylon stocking as bait. Once you know it is out of the hole, you can fill the hole in with dirt. To keep it from returning, you can bury a section of chain-link fence against the foundation of your house or shed (or whatever it burrowed under). This won't stop the animal from digging near your foundation, but it won't be able to dig underneath it.


3. Are armadillos dangerous?

Not really. They are wild animals, and any wild animal should be treated with caution and respect, but the average armadillo is not a dangerous creature. They are capable of harming people with their strong claws if they are handled incorrectly, but in most cases they will run away when they feel that they are in danger. Most people who have had encounters with the animals have reported that the armadillo pretty much ignored them unless they did anything overtly threatening.


4. Do armadillos carry diseases, such as leprosy?

Wild armadillos have been known to be infected with the bacterium that causes leprosy (Hansen's disease). The only cases of transmission from armadillos to humans have occurred in rare incidents in which people ate undercooked armadillo meat.


5. Do people really eat armadillos?

Yes. In many areas of Central and South America, armadillo meat is often used as part of an average diet. I have heard that some peoples of South America keep small varieties of armadillos as edible housepets. During the Depression, armadillos were often eaten by hungry people. They were called "Hoover hogs" by people angry with then-President Herbert Hoover's broken promise of a chicken in every pot. The meat is said to taste like fine-grained, high-quality pork.


6. Is an armadillo's shell really made of bone?

Yes, it is. The shell is made up of thin bone plates, known as scutes. The armadillo is the only mammal that has bone plates in its skin. Fossilized scutes have been found in South America that are up to fifty million years old. Scutes as old as forty thousand years have been found in North America, around Illinois.


7. Do armadillos make any noises?

Armadillos make grunting sounds as they forage for food. They also may squeak or squeal when they feel threatened. The screaming hairy armadillo is especially known for the loud squeals it makes.


8. Do armadillos really smell bad?

Armadillos produce a musky odor that some people find to be repulsive. The scent seems to be stronger when they feel threatened.


9. Why do armadillos get hit by cars so often?

Three reasons. First, armadillos will eat carrion, which in the US is often roadkill. Animals that eat roadkill often become roadkill themselves, because they are on the road more often than other animals are. Second, armadillos are nocturnal. It is hard to see animals by the side of the road at night, so it is harder for motorists to avoid hitting them. Third, armadillos jump up in the air when they feel threatened. This often works to startle a predator, but against an automobile it doesn't work; they just end up jumping right into the front or underside of the car, with disastrous results.


10. Where in the United States am I likely to see an armadillo?

In the US, armadillos can be found all over the Southeast. They are scarce in the drier areas of Texas, and are not found west of the Rockies. The northernmost point that an armadillo has been spotted is the southern tip of Indiana, although this is surely an isolated case. Due to their inability to withstand extremely cold weather it is not likely that they will increase their range any further north.


11. Where can I buy an armadillo (Live or dead, for food or otherwise)?

I know of no company or restaurant that sells live armadillos. I have heard that some shops in San Francisco's Chinatown sell dead armadillos for food.


12. What color is an armadillo?

They range from brown to khaki to a pebbly grey.


13. How long do armadillos generally live?

I'm not exactly sure about this one. The best information I have about the lifespan suggests up to 14 years in captivity. Extrapolating from other similar-sized mammals, I would guess that the average lifespan in the wild would be between five to seven years.


14. How big does an armadillo get?

An adult nine-banded armadillo is about the same size as an average housecat. The body length ranges from 15 to 17 inches; the tail is 14 to 16 inches long. They weigh between 8 and 17 pounds; males are heavier than females.


15. Do armadillos really always give birth to 4 identical young?

Yes and no. The nine-banded armadillo nearly always gives birth to four identical young, just as humans nearly always give birth to one child at a time. However, just as people sometimes give birth to twins, armadillos will occasionally bear litters of three or five young. Despite the number, the young are always identical. They form from the same egg, share the same placenta during development, and are all the same sex. This regular production of genetically identical young makes armadillos valuable to medical researchers. (Other types of armadillo, like the giant or six-banded armadillos, give birth to varying numbers of young.)


16. I heard that armadillos will dig up and eat dead bodies. Is this true?

This unfortunate rumor comes from the armadillo's inclination to dig where the dirt is soft, such as a freshly-filled grave. They aren't after anything more than the insects in the dirt. They dig there for the same reasons that birds follow a plow as it turns the soil – that's where the bugs are the easiest to find. People sometimes call armadillos "gravediggers" as a result of this myth.


17. Do armadillos destroy crops?

Farmers have blamed armadillos for ruining melon crops, among other things. Raccoons are probably the biggest culprits. Armadillos seem to suffer from the same problem that hyenas do – their bad reputation appears to be a result of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. When farmers come out in the mornings, the slow-moving armadillos are seen taking advantage of the raccoon's leftovers, so they get the blame for ruining the crop. (Hyenas were long thought to be scavengers, because when naturalists observed them at dawn on the savanna, they were seen skulking around behind the lions feasting on a fresh kill. Thanks to night observations, we now know that the lions often steal a carcass that the hyenas actually hunted down and killed.)


18. Do armadillos eat bird eggs or chicks, like quail?

Some people have accused them of doing so, but it probably isn't a very likely scenario. Game hunters have suggested that the decline in population of ground-nesting birds is related to armadillo predation. The rise in the cat population in the US is probably much more to blame; feral cats and housecats alike are wreaking havoc on the small animal populations worldwide. Although armadillos will eat carrion, such as dead birds, they don't appear to actively hunt for eggs or chicks.

 


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