For the last couple of years we have been noticing odd holes in the ground around our yard, generally in warmer weather. They have been conical and about a four or five inches deep. For a long time I didn’t see anything to explain them. We have had possums and raccoons since we moved up to our house, and they never dug holes like that. And then one night not too long ago I saw the culprit. It was an armadillo.
Armadillos are a relatively new arrival in northwest Georgia and northeast Alabama. Both the Georgia Department of Natural Resources and the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, as well as a University of Georgia site, indicate that they are common in the southern and central parts of the state, although one source says they have extended their habitat as far north as Rome. I can attest to that.
They are typically nocturnal and shy, so you might not see them in person. Aside from the characteristic cone-shaped holes they dig, the main indicator that armadillos are present is their carcasses along highways. I can’t remember the first time I saw a dead armadillo at the side of the road, but it was not too long ago. Now their bodies are common, at least in northeast Alabama. I regularly drive between Huntsville, Al, and Rome. The stretch of road from Huntsville to Scottsboro, Al, is about 40 miles. Two weekends ago I noticed a few dead armadillos and started counting. There were about 10 carcasses along the eastbound side of the 40-mile drive. I say “about” because sometimes it was hard to tell what a particular carcass was. Ten is actually quite a large number. That’s more than the number of possums or raccoons I see in that distance.
What does it say about the population if there were 10 dead armadillos along 40 miles of highway? How many crossed the road safely, and how many are there in the large areas of forest and farmland on either side of the road? I can’t think of any reason that there would be a concentration of armadillos right on the road, so I think of the highway as a representative slice through an armadillo range. I think that means there is a pretty large population of armadillos in that area.
They are interesting animals. You might be led to think that they are marsupials like possums, but they aren’t. They’re mammals just like us. One strange thing about them is that they produce four identical offspring from a single fertilized egg. They live in burrows and feed mainly on insects, grubs and worms; hence the holes. They also eat some vegetable matter and, apparently when the opportunity arises, small vertebrates. Unfortunately, they may end up being a danger for ground-nesting birds. Some researchers have found quail eggs in their stomachs, and some remote cameras have caught them eating the eggs. They also apparently eat sea turtle eggs on occasion.
We aren’t sure whether they eat cat food like possums and raccoons. Based on the Web sites I have read and on our own experience, there doesn’t seem to be any particular type of bait that will entice an armadillo into a live-capture trap. Possums and raccoons fall for peanut butter on saltine crackers, but armadillos aren’t interested. One site recommended making a wide, angled fence to funnel the armadillos into the trap. Apparently they are not attracted to peanut butter, but they are fairly stupid. A .22 rifle is the recommended population control tool.
So why would we want to control their population? There are some problems with armadillos. If you like well-manicured lawns, you don’t want them around. We don’t have anything remotely resembling a lawn, so that’s no worry. The old fear of leprosy seems not to be warranted. One site said that the only documented cases (two) of transmission from wild armadillos to humans were in Texas and apparently resulted from eating raw or undercooked armadillos. This will not be a problem for us. There has been only one reported case of rabies in armadillos, in Texas, and no known cases of transmission to humans.
In general I am not in favor of having
non- natural non-native species populate an area. There may be some examples that are either positive or neutral, but there are plenty of other counter examples, like the fire ant. Fire ants have also colonized northern Georgia within the last 50 years or so, and it seems that there are no natural predators of fire ants in Georgia. Their sting is very painful, about like a good, solid hit from a wasp, or possibly even worse. But it turns out that the armadillo eats fire ants. So maybe things will even out.