Updated on September 22, 2022
Mother Nature comes up with some of the craziest things. Just go onto your favorite video platform and look up electron microscope images for some crazy critters that belong in a sci-fi movie. But these cool designs also occur on the macro scale.
Take, for example, the armadillo. These cute little guys are something you’d expect from a sci-fi or fantasy novel, yet they’re quite real. Unfortunately, they can also be quite a nuisance and even a health risk.
Let’s take a closer look at one of the most fascinating critters to grace the southern US and go over some of the best ways to get rid of unwanted armadillos and keep them away.
Getting to Know Armadillos
When we talk about armadillos in the US, there’s only one species present to discuss, which is also arguably the coolest: the nine-banded armadillo (Dasypus novemcinctus).
However, there are currently 21 known species, all originating from South America.
Identifying US Armadillos
As mentioned, the nine-banded armadillo is the only type found in the US and this curious species is sometimes referred to as the common long-nosed armadillo.
The name armadillo is Spanish for “little armored one”, but the Mēxihcah (what we now call Aztecs) called it āyōtōchtli, meaning “turtle-rabbit”, which is quite the accurate description.
These little guys are among the largest armadillos, measuring up to 42 inches long, with half of that being tail, and around 9.8 inches tall. While most will only weigh a little over 14 pounds, the largest can weigh as much as 22 pounds.
While there are six subspecies of this armadillo, most are in South or Central America and there’s surprisingly little genetic diversity in the US population.
The common long-nosed armadillo has a longer snout, long rabbit-like ears, and tough, scaly plating that protects the back, sides, head, tail, and the outer parts of the legs. Contrary to the name, various subspecies will vary from 7 to 11 bands.
The inner portion of the legs and belly have thick, tough skin covered in coarse hair. Their front paws have a longer middle claw, making it easier to dig. With a body that ranges from gray to brown, these little critters can live up to 10 years in the wild and blend right in with bare soil or rock.
One sad fact is that the nine-banded armadillo can’t roll into a ball like its three-banded cousin, but it has a different ability which is just as neat – it can pull air into its intestines, allowing it to float on water.
Even more interesting is that the armadillo can keep its snout submerged in soil or water for up to six minutes at a time. Thus, it’s not unusual to see an armadillo dive like a submarine and skitter across a riverbed.
Another area where armadillos have humans beat is they’ve mastered the art of cloning long before we even thought to try it. A female armadillo will give birth to four identical clones without fail. This has some interesting implications, mind you.
For example, each clone will have the exact same immunities and resistances as the mother, which makes them a much hardier critter. However this also reduces the genetic diversity of a population.
While not as big of a problem in South America, it’s clear that only a few nine-banded armadillos migrated into the US due to the relatively small variations in their genes. As such, any genetic disorders that are passed down will affect all four young, which can increase the likelihood of such defects becoming more widespread.
What Parts of the US Do Armadillos Inhabit?
Armadillos are best-suited for subtropical environments, but as we’re entering a minor heat age, they’re able to slowly expand their territory ever northwards.
Currently, they range from Texas to Florida, with a northern range extending into Nebraska and the southern portions of Illinois and Indiana. This will likely be the extent of their expansion, as they cannot handle harsh winters or especially arid conditions.
However, it is theorized they’ll be able to continue expanding along the Eastern seaboard as far north as Connecticut.
What Time of Night Do Armadillos Come Out?
This varies a bit depending on the weather. Armadillos need 16 hours of sleep and are normally crepuscular, meaning they’re active at dawn and dusk. However, as the weather warms, their active period may go from late evening into early night.
In the hottest months, they’re often completely nocturnal, with activity occurring usually around 2:00 to 5:00 AM when it’s coolest. In winter, they’re actually known to come out during the day when it’s warm enough to forage.
What Do Armadillos Eat?
Armadillos are primarily insectivores, preferring such tasty morsels as grubs and worms, but also eating a variety of bugs and insects. However, they’re also known to forage fruit or roughage, and on rare occasion will scavenge carcasses or even eat something as large as a snake or rabbit.
Armadillos are non-territorial and will migrate long distances in search of food, meaning today’s visitor may not be tomorrow’s.
Do Armadillos Bite?
Armadillos are shy critters and prefer to avoid confrontation. Their teeth are peg-like and unable to do much damage, even if they try to bite you in self-defense. Likewise, their claws are dull to make them more efficient at digging and probably won’t break skin.
Instead, their main defense mechanism is to squat and remain very still, hoping a predator will mistake them for a rock.
If this doesn’t work, they’ll jump four feet straight up in the air! This startles the predator long enough for the armadillo to escape at surprising speed to the nearest hiding spot.
Armadillo Health Risks
Armadillos have a nasty reputation for spreading disease, but this is generally exaggerated. However, they do pose a health risk and should be handled with some degree of caution.
Hansen disease is a form of leprosy that can be transmitted to humans through armadillo bites, scratches, or feces, but this is extremely rare. Armadillos in the US have a rather small chance of containing the two bacteria that are known to cause leprosy.
According to the Mayo Clinic, most people these days have an immunity to the disease unless they have some form of immunodeficiency and the condition is now treatable.
Armadillo feces often contains salmonella, a bacteria which is quite common but can still cause food poisoning and may be dangerous for immunosuppressed individuals or small children. It can also contain parasitic worms or other diseases commonly found in excrement.
However, the most severe risk is that armadillos are one of many species that can transmit rabies. The risk of getting rabies from an armadillo is about as low as getting it from rodentia such as rabbits or feral rats, as well as opossums. Compare this to the much higher risk when in contact with bats or raccoons.
The good news is that armadillos are also a valuable ally, as they’re the only non-human critter to carry leprosy and are being studied not only to find a cure for this disease, but also are used to produce the rabies vaccine.
Burrowing and Excavating: The Other Armadillo Problems
What makes an armadillo become a pest isn’t the possible risk of disease, however (this can be said of any wild animal, even feral cats and dogs). Instead, it can be the noise of them bouncing off of objects in your backyard or getting into a poorly-placed trash can. They may even knock over some potted plants if they’re within reach.
But even worse, armadillos burrow in search of their prey. They prefer looser soil and are known to excavate entire gardens in search of grubs and worms. As a result, they’re more likely to destroy well-manicured lawns than unkempt and rocky yards. These excavations tend to be around three to five inches wide and up to three inches deep.
Not only can this uproot plants and tear up your lawn, but armadillos setting up shop on your property will often create their burrow under the house or other structures. These burrows can be up to 15 feet long and sometimes result in structural damage similar to damage caused by groundhogs. This can also lead to damaging underground pipes and wires.
While solitary for most of the year, armadillos will raise their young in the burrows and can spend as much as 65% of their time hiding inside – especially in the winter or hottest portions of summer.
Do Armadillos Roll?
The only armadillo capable of rolling into a ball is the three-banded armadillo. However, much like hedgehogs, this doesn’t give them the ability to roll around like a ball.
Ironically, the reason other armadillos can’t curl into a ball is because they have too many bands, which one would think would have the opposite effect.
Are Armadillos Really That Stupid?
Watching armadillos bump into things or run into a tree at full speed might make them seem really stupid, but this isn’t the case.
In fact, armadillos have extremely poor eyesight and rely on their sense of smell and touch to explore the world around them. Under the right circumstances, they can be quite clever, but the inability to see where they’re going can lead to pure slapstick comedy gold.
Dillophilia is the love of armadillos, and “dillering” is the popular term used for catching or collecting armadillos and armadillo memorabilia. There’s just something about these critters that make a lot of people forget about the bad reputation. In fact, they’re often kept as exotic pets.
Texas is considered the heart of dillomania, and there are even campaigns to make the armadillo the official state animal. There’s also the IALA (International Armadillo Lovers Association), which has as one of its rules the stipulation that members cannot eat armadillo meat.
And yes, armadillos are a popular food in many locations, bearing the nicknames “Texas turkey” and “Hoover hog”. In fact, there are entire cookbooks devoted to armadillos, although we strongly recommend you get them from a breeder and avoid wild armadillo meat due to the possible risk of disease.
Finally, Kansas City used to hold an annual event called the Kidney Foundation Armadillo Races (it’s unknown whether this event still exists, sadly). As the name suggests, dillophiles could watch a bunch of armadillos race, and the proceeds would go towards kidney research.
Getting Rid of Armadillos
Of course, between the banging around that keeps you up at night, destruction to your lawn and garden, and risk of disease (regardless of the exact odds), it’s pretty obvious you don’t want wild armadillos running around on your property.
In the event you already have one or more nosing about, here’s the lowdown on what you need to do to get rid of them quickly and effectively.
One word of warning, however: If you plan to come in close contact with a wild armadillo, you should always wear protective clothing and gloves, just in case it does try to defend itself or there’s fecal matter about. You’ll also want to use disinfectant where the armadillos may have pooped.
Should You Kill an Armadillo?
As you likely already know, we never promote killing a critter unless there’s no better option. While armadillos are considered at no risk in the US, some places may have ordinances against killing one.
Some of these ordinances may revolve around the use or possession of firearms, while others involve cruelty restrictions. If you absolutely need to kill one, be sure you know if it’s legal where you live first.
How To Trap an Armadillo
This is by far the best method out there. You’ll want to invest in a live trap and ensure it’s big enough for the armadillo to fit comfortably inside. Pick a spot near the burrow and lay some bait in the early evening in the spot you plan to put the trap. The best bait is worms, but fruit or berries also work.
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Do this for a day or two to ensure the armadillo is interested, but don’t be surprised if the bait isn’t always eaten. Then, after you know the armadillo knows where the bait is, lay your live trap and put the bait inside.
This time, when the armadillo comes out for its evening of foraging, it will end up trapped. You can then easily relocate and release it somewhere far from your home while you armadillo-proof the property.
Do Any Home Remedies Work Against Armadillos?
Yes, there are a few remedies that can work when trying to drive an armadillo from your property. These pretty much always come down to strong smells.
For example, sprinkling cayenne pepper around the perimeter of your garden can often convince the armadillo (and other critters) to look elsewhere.
Another good remedy is to use the two opposing cleaners, white vinegar and ammonia. Ammonia is extremely alkaline and will remind the armadillo of urine. Meanwhile, vinegar is extremely acidic. Both will overpower the armadillo’s sensitive nose and cause him to flee. You can either use them as a spray or soak a rag and put it near the burrow entrance.
However, there’s one method you most certainly should avoid: mothballs. We’ve written an entire guide on this home remedy and why it’s never a good option despite their effectiveness.
When in doubt, don’t be afraid to contact local animal control, who can trap and remove the armadillos safely.
How to Keep Armadillos Away
While some of these methods can help you get rid of an armadillo, they’re generally better for keeping them away. Try mixing and matching several of these methods for the best results.
Keep a Clean Yard
Armadillos roam around in search of food, so it stands to reason they won’t hang around an empty buffet table. Make sure to eliminate any bug infestations and keep the year clear of debris. This is especially true of any fallen fruit or other goodies.
One of the best ways to keep a wide variety of critters out of your flower or crop garden is to use complimentary gardening (AKA companion planting). This is the practice of using plants with specific properties to benefit nearby plants.
For armadillos, consider planting peppermint, sage, lemongrass, or garlic around the garden to assail their little noses.
Fences are an effective barrier, but most people make the mistake of building them only above ground. For an effective fence, however, you also have to go below ground.
To stop armadillos, the fence needs to extend approximately 18 inches below ground. Above ground, 24 inches should be a good height to stop both armadillos and a lot of other critters. For best results, make sure the top angles out around 45 degrees so the fence can’t be climbed from the outside. Sonic fences will also work.
Fill the Holes
Finally, fill any armadillo holes with gravel once they’re abandoned. This prevents anyone else from moving in.