Jeffrey J. Jackson
University of Georgia
Armadillos, since their successful invasion of the southeast, have become renowned as pests of lawns and gardens. It's their endless digging in search of their insect food that does the damage. A lawn visited by an armadillo looks like it was dug up by a small pig.
How do you cope with armadillos? The first method is catching by hand. Granted this is inefficient, but it can be a bit of a sport.
Start out by watching an armadillo going about its work. It will just poke along, sniffing here and there. Armadillos seem to be preoccupied and bumbling creatures as they go about rooting in leaf litter or digging in turf for insects and other invertebrate food. You will think, ``They look stupid, I bet I could catch one.''
At least that's what the young people in my natural history class often think. On our annual south Georgia field trip, my co-instructor and I explain to them that it's not every class that can catch an armadillo. They take up the challenge with enthusiasm.
As the shadows lengthen in a large clearing, the students watch for armadillos. At dusk the animals leave the shelter of the woods and move out onto the lawn. The students watch, and then, warily, they encircle their prey from about 100 yards out. Then they close in. Usually, when they get within 50 yards or so, the armadillo catches on and perks up. Then it begins ambling, then scuttling, and finally trotting toward the protection of the brushes and its burrow beyond.
Once the armadillo begins to flee, the students give up their stalk and rush in on their prey. The armadillo takes off at a run. Overtaking the creature is no great difficulty for a fit young man, but what then?
The students execute flying tackles and various pouncing maneuvers, but the armadillo is immune to all. Catching a running armadillo is like trying to contain a bouncing motorized football. Armadillos have a habit of ``bucking'' when they are touched or startled. They pop up just as your hands push down, then they duck and run.
This habit of popping up works a hardship on them when they cross roads. They would be better off taking a low profile, but instead they may pop up just when a car passes over them. In fact, enough of them come to grief on the highways that road-killed armadillos are often called ``possum on the half shell.''
When in contact with the ground their short sturdy legs and long claws give them hellacious traction. This traction combined with their slick, hard shell makes them a challenge to hold. Trying to grip an armadillo by the body is a lot harder than trying to hold a greased pig with long claws. A held armadillo can scratch like fury.
The best way to hand-catch an armadillo is to stalk it. Find one that is preoccupied with digging in the leaf litter. Creep up from behind, ever so quietly-- easy now. Lower your hand gradually until it is just above the base of the tail. Then confidently and firmly seize the animal by the base of the tail and lift it clear off the ground. The animal will spin wildly, but hold on and soon it will tire. Touching the nose to the ground will stop the spinning.
Once I caught an armadillo, and while I was holding it by the tail I stalked and caught another. This suggests that they are poor communicators. The captured one was unable to alarm the second one as I approached.
Using a large landing net is much easier. Just sneak up and clap it over the animal.
If hand catching or netting isn't your thing you can try trapping. This method is uncertain at best. It seems they are too unaware to find a trap and go in. Unlike predators such as fox or raccoon which can easily home in on a distant trap by sight or smell, armadillos are difficult to lure. Baiting a cage trap with fruit or meat baits will usually catch possum or raccoon instead of armadillos.
Here is a method that will increase success. Skip the bait and set a cage trap open at both ends. A cage size 121240 inches is about right. Make a V formation with 10 inch high boards, to funnel the armadillo into the trap. How long should the boards be? The longer the better. Ten feet is enough in many situations. You can use the side of a building as one of the guides. Gary DePalma, a Florida NWCO, tells me that armadillo urine in a trail of droplets about 8 inches apart will help entice the creature along the path into the trap. A few rotten earthworms or other armadillo food may help lure the animal once it is within a few feet of the trap.
Shooting is a lot easier than hand catching or trapping. A .22 rimfire or shotgun with size 4 shot or larger will get the job done.