Armadillos are Increasing Their Presence in South Carolina
The nine-banded armadillo can now be found in all 46 counties of the Palmetto State.
An increasing number of holes is being found in yards and fields across the Palmetto State. The source of those holes is an animal that has been working its way into the state from Florida and Central America for decades: it’s the armadillo.
Armadillo means “little armored one” in Spanish. It’s well-named, because the nine-banded armadillo – the species that is spreading throughout South Carolina - is easily recognized by the bony plates of armor on its back. Naturalist Rudy Mancke said that on its journey to the Palmetto State, the Savannah River would not present much of a barrier, and observed how scientists noticed their growing numbers.
“They can swim, they can walk on the bottom of shallow water,” he said. But to get across the Savannah River at wider parts, Mancke said armadillos would likely do the practical thing, just like people would. “Just go over the bridge like the cars.” He added that roadkill specimens were the way a lot of the early records were noticed. “You see them dead on the road, D.O.R. specimens, we call them. And you learn a lot about ranges and expansion of ranges by looking at D.O.R. specimens.”
Armadillos have spread from Texas east to North Carolina and north to Nebraska, as well as moving up from South Florida. Mancke believes that the animals are moving farther north as a result of a warming climate. “I think that’s the reason for a lot of Southern species moving farther north. And we’ve been noticing that for a good long time, and never really thought much of that as a problem. But I’m seeing a lot of Southern species that you would not normally see in as large numbers.”
Because armadillos have the unique trait of reproducing always in the form of identical quadruplets, they have been used in comparative studies to seek cures or treatments for various diseases such as leprosy, said Mancke.
According to Jay Butfiloski of the Department of Natural Resources, armadillos are no threat to humans, but can do extensive damage to property. “They primarily eat insects and soil insects, so they do a lot of digging. And they do a lot of burrowing,” said Butfiloski.
“Obviously, we get a lot of complaints at DNR about them rooting up the lawns. Because they do, and it’s a mini roto-tiller, and you’ll see all of a sudden, you’ve got a bunch of holes in your yard. Those usually show up in the late afternoon. They’ve got really strong claws and they can burrow pretty quickly,” he added. “It’s a lot of lawn damage, and from a farmer’s standpoint, burrowing activity with holes could be a potential danger for livestock, or even equipment if it falls in, into any places where they’re dug out.”
The strange looking critters also can damage other animal populations in the state, said Butfiloski. “They will eat some ground nesting birds, so some of those places that might manage for quail and turkey, they may be concerned about armadillos on their property.”
The DNR specialist named some things people can do if they find their land invaded by armadillos. “The whole reason they’re there is for soil insects, so the more insects you have, the more likely you’ll have burrowing, or at least extensive digging in your yard. So controlling soil insects may prevent a lot of the digging. Outside of that they can be trapped, using live traps with ‘wings’ to kinda guide ‘em into it.” Though they have a keen sense of smell, armadillos don’t see very well, Butfiloski noted. “Or, what we would typically do when someone calls DNR is we refer them to a private sector trapper who can come and trap their property for them.”
Armadillos also have natural predators, Mancke said. “A coyote will take it. Wild hogs would. A wild hog will eat anything. I guess bobcats. Fox might give it a shot. Any predator that eats small mammals and has the ability to kill it and flip it over, yeah, they could feed on ‘em.”
Humans sometimes hunt armadillos for food, said Butfiloski, but that was probably more common during the Depression, when they were called “Hoover hogs,” and many impoverished people ate whatever they could find.
Mancke said if armadillos moved into his area, he would tend to leave them alone and let nature take its course. “I, as a general rule through simple observation over the years, have realized that when humans try to fiddle with the natural world, more often than not, you end up with more problems than you had before you started fiddling,”
But there are times when people must take action, he added. “When it threatens your house, or the foundations of your house, then you’ve got to do something,” Mancke said. “But I don’t see hordes of armadillos killing all the invertebrates in the state of South Carolina,” to cause large-scale damage to home foundations.
If faced with armadillos in his own yard, Mancke said he would probably live with the situation.
However, he added, he could not guess what reaction his wife would have.