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Why I like armadillos.

This is in response to Sandra Bellinger's comments on armadillos in the Nov./Dec. 1991 issue. She lives in Missouri.

I live in Texas and I was aghast and appalled by what she said. Yes, we Texans live with armadillos. The key words here are "live with". Armadillos are the official mascot of Texas and, in fact, our state legislature has considered making them the official mammal for our state. We love our' dillos!

However, we have for years been aware that transplanted Yankees and urban dwellers do not like armadillos. They usually cite one reason, the same reason Sandra uses: Armadillos dig up their lawns. They don't realize that 'dillos dig for insects and grubs, one of their favorite foods. Armadillos are beneficial by eating these over-wintering and/ or soil-inhabiting insects and their larvae. At the same time they help aerate the soil. I realize that this "tillage" is what the city people don't like, but what's a 'dillo to do? It's the only way he has to get his grubs!

Let me tell you a little about armadillos. Dillos are basically solitary critters. They live in burrows and sleep there through cold spells but they don't hibernate. They're more active in the evenings and through the night but, if hungry, are out during the day, too. They pair up only to mate in the summer and the young are born in the burrow the following spring. They're unique in that they always have identical quadruplets. Always. If you see a mother 'dillo with less young, you know not all her babies have survived.

Armadillos have no front teeth. So, they can't bite you. They see and hear poorly so it's pretty easy to just walk up on one. But stay downwind as they have a keen sense of smell. If startled, they jump straight up and can run surprisingly fast.

In recent years, we've had armadillo races at our local fairs. The 'dillos are numbered and put in little starting gates, with chutes to the finish line. When the gates are opened, the crowds cheer their 'dillos on! Prizes are given and the armadillos are fed. Lots of fun for all!

Unfortunately, the startle reflex of jumping straight up means the death of many a 'dillo on our highways. The headlights of approaching vehicles "freezes" them until the last minute when they spring up. A car grill catching them at 55 mph doesn't do them much good.

Armadillos have been valuable in research, too. It seems they are very susceptible to leprosy. Researchers have used them for the last 15 years in their efforts to develop a vaccine to prevent leprosy in human beings.

Since we love and appreciate our dillos and don't try to kill them, we deal with their digging in other non-destructive ways. Armadillos are not real bright. They tend to follow the same trails each evening. Of course, they branch off and develop new trails all the time. We use this knowledge to outwit them. Let me share an experience as an example.

A few years ago we had a huge garden. We began seeing 'dillo diggings in the garden and, when we had some plants uprooted, we decided we needed to persuade our 'dillos to go elsewhere. We followed the trail (tracks and diggings) back out of the garden, down along the fence, across the front yard and into a small woods where we found their burrow. We didn't disturb the burrow as a mama 'dillo raised her babies there every spring. But we didn't want the whole family in our garden every night. So, on their trail, at a spot just inside the garden area, we placed a humane trap. There was no need to place bait (try making a grub or insect stay on a bait plate!). If a 'dillo can see through the trap, he doesn't seem to realize there is a trap. This one stayed on his trail and we had a trapped armadillo the next morning. We let him go and he was just smart enough not to go that far down that trail again. We've always done that as needed and we don't get enough 'dillo damage to make us want to kill them.

Another method that works, and the one most people use (since most don't own humane traps), is simply a fence. I don't mean a barbed wire or woven wire fence or anything else a 'dillo would get through or push under. Use a finer mesh, welded wire along the bottom of your existing fence up about 1-1/2 to 2 feet all around the perimeter of the area you want to protect. 'Dillos don't climb well or jump over fences. They just amble along until they find a place to get through or under. I've known some people to place boards around their gardens, usually 1 X 12s, up on edge. Sometimes a foot isn't high enough, though, especially for a grown armadillo.

To catch an armadillo

To catch an armadillo you have to grab his tail to stop him. He'll only try to run away, but you'll have to hold tight as he has great traction and more strength than you'd think. To pick him up you'll need to put your hands on either side of his body with your fingers gripping the edges of his armor. Have the armadillo facing away from you and avoid his front claws. They're designed for digging so they're long and strong. He won't try to claw you, as they are passive animals, but he will struggle to get away and could end up doing some damage. If you put him in a cage he'll try to dig his way out and hurt himself. They just don't tame the way a dog or cat does and you really can't teach them tricks or housebreak them. They're rather primitive beasts.

If it were economically feasible for either of us I'd tell Sandra, "ship those 'dillos home"! We'd appreciate 'em. However, it isn't feasible. I'm hoping she will learn to like 'em and live with 'em, too. Maybe even get some races going? Maybe just be glad something is helping her with her grubs and bugs!

If you really want to know all about 'dillos, read The Amazing Armadillo, Geography of a Folk Critter by Larry L. Smith and Robin W. Doughts. It's published by the University of Texas Press, Box 7819, Austin, TX 78713.
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Author:George, Vickie
Publication:Countryside & Small Stock Journal
Date:Jan 1, 1993
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