Lara Miller, Natural Resource Agent
Michael Barr, Brooker Creek Preserve Intern
Although it is commonly seen foraging in forests, woodlands and backyards, the Nine-banded Armadillo is not a native species to Florida. During the past century, armadillos have migrated from Texas to the Florida panhandle. Just as there are two sides to every story, the armadillo can be perceived as your friend or foe.
Have you noticed that your flower-beds were upturned overnight? Armadillos have poor eyesight and hearing, but a keen sense of smell that they use to find food. Armadillos feed primarily on insects and their larvae, but will also eat earthworms, scorpions, spiders, snails, and small vertebrates and their eggs. Their ability to eat large amounts of insects harmful to humans such as ants, wasps, flies, and cockroaches can make armadillos beneficial to humans. Unfortunately, their eating habits have been known to cause damage to a wide range of locations including lawns, flower beds, and vegetable gardens.
What happened to my yard? The armadillo searches for food by digging and rooting around in the ground litter and upper soil. They prefer to dig in moist soil and will seek out well kept lawns and gardens, exactly the places where they are least wanted. Armadillos can dig dozens of shallow holes during the night, leading to ruined lawns and upturned flowerbeds. Their deep burrows can also cause damage to foundations, driveways, and other structures.
What can you do about pesky armadillos? There are not many known and effective solutions for armadillos. Most of the methods used to deal with other nuisance wildlife are not effective against armadillos. Trap rates are extremely low and there are no successful repellents, toxicants, or fumigants against armadillos. Development of effective and efficient armadillo control methods is still underway.
While destruction of property can be a problem, the armadillo does not pose a serious threat to the health of humans. They have relatively few parasites compared to other common animals and there have been no armadillos diagnosed with rabies in Florida. Although they are the only other species besides humans capable of hosting the bacteria that causes leprosy, no infected armadillos have been found in Florida and their ability to transmit the disease is not well understood.
Florida is home to diverse habitats and an abundance of wildlife. Living in close proximity with wildlife will sometimes lead to unpleasant situations. Understanding the behavior of armadillos and other nuisance animals is important in designing effective management solutions.
Find out more about critters in your backyard at Unveiling our Urban Wildlife, an educational program offered at Brooker Creek Preserve on July 28th. Free registration is available here. For more information on natural resources in Pinellas County, follow your local extension agent on Twitter.