When you see an armadillo in your backyard you might be inclined to screech, or maybe “yech!”, but please don’t hurt them! They may look like armored, out-of-this-world four-legged warriors, but they’re quite harmless as long as you’re not an insect. In fact, they’re incredibly beneficial creatures to have as your Backyard Buddy. Let’s learn more about these guys.
How Do You Recognize an Armadillo?
Armadillos are mammals widely recognized for their rugged, leathery hide covered with bands of armor, short legs, and sharp, long claws. Despite some popular myths surrounding this animal, only two species will roll up into a tight ball when threatened by predators. One of them, the three-banded armadillo, was even made the mascot of the 2014 World Cup tournament!
Most armadillos grow up to around 25-40 inches, including their tail, though the Giant Armadillo (found in South America) can measure over 60 inches long and weigh up to 119 pounds! (The smallest, called the pink fairy armadillo, is an adorable 6 inches in length.)
Only one species is found in the United States: the nine-banded armadillo. This guy has a longish snout, tiny, stubby legs with long, sharp claws, and a lengthy tail. The armadillo is a nocturnal creature, and like most animals that dig in the dirt, has poor eyesight but an excellent sense of smell.
Where Are Armadillos Found?
Nine-banded armadillos are happiest in tropical and subtropical conditions, although they’ve expanded their range over the decades to include most of the country. (They’re the state small mammal of Texas.) You’re likely to encounter them in forests and grassland areas where the soil is easy to dig for making small burrows and finding food.
Scientists studying the armored creature believe the armadillo will be found even further north as climate change continues to heat the environment.
What Does an Armadillo Eat?
With its great snout, the armadillo can track down food using its strong sense of smell. The creature has quite an extensive menu but feeds mainly on invertebrates, favoring insects such as beetles, white grubs, scorpions, spiders, snails, cockroaches, yellow jackets, and wasps.
If given the opportunity, armadillos will also happily chow down on:
- Eggs of mammals and reptiles
- Small reptiles
- Small amphibians
- Birds’ eggs
They will also eat plant matter such as fungi, seeds, and fruit, but these only make up 10% of their diet.
Are Armadillos a Nuisance to Humans?
The nine-banded armadillo population continues to grow throughout North America. Roads are making it easier for these creatures to traverse across the country, and it’s not unusual to find them rooting around in your garden, on golf courses, and in parks. Unfortunately, they do have a reputation for being a nuisance to both residential gardeners and farmers.
Watch out for the telltale sign of an active armadillo scooting around your backyard: being voracious insect hunters, their enthusiastic digging often means creating holes all over your backyard. They also live in burrows, which are another source of holes at the entrances and exits. Prolific burrowing could ruin lawns, flower beds, and vegetable patches, especially as the softer soil makes it easier for this creature to excavate these areas.
However, because of their diet, these Backyard Buddies play a vital role in controlling undesirable pests. They are also harmless and will not attack pets or children. (They don’t even have sharp teeth.) All they want to do is keep out of sight and to themselves.
How to Prevent Armadillos From Entering Your Garden
If you want to stop armadillos from snorkeling around your backyard, consider the following:
- Sturdy fencing: Install a strong fence at least two feet high and deeply set into the ground to prevent the animal from burrowing underneath.
- Open spaces: Keep your backyard open and remove any lush vegetation, as armadillos feel unsafe in wide-open spaces and will avoid them. (That said, if your goal is to have a lovely garden, I’m not sure what the point of pulling out your vegetation is!)
- Distraction: Creating ideal digging conditions away from your yard by watering areas of the ground further away from your property (but not your neighbor’s yard). Insects usually surface when the ground is wet, making for an easy dinner, and the soil will be easier for the armadillo to dig in.
- Cayenne pepper: Some gardeners swear by sprinkling cayenne pepper around the border of their garden. The potent smell seems to chase armadillos away!
Did You Know?
Twinning (and then some)
The nine-banded armadillo will always have four identical quadruplets – one fertilized egg splitting into four identical young. Other armadillo species have litter sizes ranging from one to eight babies. The young armadillo is born with a soft, leathery covering that hardens over a couple of weeks. An armadillo can live anything between seven to 20 years.
Setting sail (sort of)
The armadillo can easily cross a small stream or river by holding its breath for up to six minutes while zipping across the bottom of the water bed. It can also inflate its body to twice its size by swallowing air, making them buoyant enough to swim!
Rudyard Kipling wrote a short story about armadillos in 1895
It’s called The Beginning of the Armadillos, and you can read or listen to it for free right here!
Technically you could eat an armadillo if you really wanted to; the meat is rumored to taste like pork.
During the Great Depression, the species was hunted for its meat in East Texas, where it was known as poor man’s pork or the “Hoover hog” by those who considered President Herbert Hoover to be responsible for the Depression. German settlers in Texas would often refer to the armadillo as Panzerschwein (“armored pig”). (Source)
Armadillo racing is a thing in Texas
Not sure what else to say about that, really!
Armadillos are unique creatures, and finding one in your backyard could be fun. (Just don’t touch it, please, since some are known to carry leprosy.) While they may become a problem digging up plants and creating burrows all over the place, remember they also get rid of pesky pests.
Our recommendation is to leave them alone if encountered, but if you really can’t stand them, please avoid toxic poisons and pursue a humane live trap instead, and release him far away from roads and residential property.
Todd Stebleton is the owner and operator of Universal Pest Control, a family-owned business for over 25 years in Ormond Beach, Florida. He and his wife Natalie are proud to have built a company focused on conducting business with honesty and integrity: keeping customers first, protecting the environment, and providing trustworthy, personal service.
Universal: Honest, Environmentally Friendly Pest Control