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Hungry Armadillos Can Damage Yards

By Marcela Cartagena

MISSISSIPPI STATE -- One of Mississippi's oddest looking pests can tear up a lawn in a night, but experts say not much can be done to prevent the armadillo from doing it again.

"These animals are not serious pests, but they can be a nuisance and people should treat them as any other wild animal," said Dean Stewart, associate of wildlife and fisheries at the Mississippi State University's Extension Service.

Armadillos are similar in size to a cat or possum and their weight range from eight to 17 pounds, Stewart said. They have a protective shell with movable rings and small head with a long-narrow snout. Armadillos have no teeth.

"They have very poor eyesight, but a very strong sense of smell," Stewart said. "Despite their odd appearance, they can run and swim well."

Armadillos are known to be voracious diggers. They can dig up to 15 feet burrows where they give birth and raise their young, but they also dig in people's yards, golf courses, vegetable gardens and flower beds in search of insects.

The armadillos' diet range from ants to spiders. They also eat larvae, frogs and other invertebrates.

There are nearly 20 species of armadillos worldwide, but Mississippi is the home to only one, the nine-banded armadillo which immigrated several decades ago from the Southwest.

Stewart said these animals produce one litter each year, normally during the spring. The litter always consists of four young of the same sex, because they come from the same egg.

Armadillos are only found throughout the South, primarily in Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Kansas, Arkansas, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia and Florida. The South's high temperatures, humidity and sandy-loam soils, create the perfect habitat for armadillos.

But more than nuisance, armadillos can carry disease.

Dr. Frank Austin, associate professor at diagnostic laboratory services with MSU's College of Veterinary Medicine, said armadillos can carry several infectious diseases. That is why he recommended people treat armadillos as they would any other wild animal.

"Never attempt to handle, touch or keep armadillos," Austin said. "Not only can they carry diseases, but they also have strong claws. They just need to be left alone."

One of these infectious diseases is leprosy, a chronic but mildly contagious disease that alters the skin causing deformation and loss of sensation. Austin said armadillos are only known to carry the disease in small areas in Louisiana and Texas, not in Mississippi.

Few control and prevention options are available against armadillos, but Stewart said they often work. Three common methods used to get rid of armadillos are shooting, trapping and excluding them.

"Shooting is an effective control, but not always appropriate," Stewart said. "The best time to shoot them is during the evening hours, because this is when they begin searching for food."

Stewart said people need to check with their local laws and ordinances before doing this.

Armadillos also can be captured in box traps. Good locations to set traps are along fences and pathways where they walk.

Exclusion is another method that can be used against armadillos. Low fences built around yards leaning outside at a 40 degree angle can keep the armadillos from entering the area.

Stewart said there are no poisons or repellents currently registered in Mississippi known to be effective against armadillos.

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Released: Aug. 10, 1998
Contact: Dean Stewart, (601) 325-3177

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