While These Armored Critters Can Dig Up Your Yard, They’re Beneficial, Too
Something is creating divots in our yard, and it’s making a terrible mess. The holes near the sidewalk have caused the pavement to crack. What might it be, and do you have any suggestions for alleviating the problem?
A: From your description, I’m pretty sure you have armadillos visiting your yard. They tend to be nocturnal creatures, so unless you’re up really late, you probably won’t see them tearing up your yard. They nest in deep burrows during the day, with openings about 7 or 8 inches wide that can extend 15 feet underground. They prefer dense shady cover, such as thick brush or undergrowth in forests. The flexible coat of armor that covers their entire bodies, except for their ears and bellies, allows them to withstand attacks from many predators, as does their tendency to jump straight up when threatened. Unfortunately, this last characteristic causes their encounters with cars usually to end badly.
Armadillos feed primarily on insects and their larvae, but they also eat earthworms, scorpions, spiders, snails, cockroaches, wasps and grasshoppers. According to a report from the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, armadillos will dig up entire yellow-jacket nests. So these prehistoric-looking creatures do perform a beneficial function. The problem arises in how they do their job. While nosing around for insects in the soil, they uproot flowers and small shrubs; burrow under patios and driveways, sometimes causing structural damage; and they can leave holes for unsuspecting people and pets to step into, causing foot and ankle injuries.
This time of year, the summer rains tend to slack off and the relatively dry fall weather appears, sending armadillos out to forage in previously undisturbed areas. There are several things you can do to discourage armadillos from visiting your yard. First, reduce the amount of water and fertilizer you’re applying to your lawn. A moist, lush lawn is a tasty earthworm and insect buffet. If you keep your lawn on the dry side — another reason to water early in the day, so the grass and soil have time to dry before nightfall — it won’t be as appealing to the armadillos.
Another option is to create barriers, such as fences, to keep the armadillos away from lawn areas or plantings you particularly want to protect. UF recommends using fencing material that stands at least 24 inches above the ground and extends 18 inches below the surface of the soil, with the fencing material positioned at a 40-degree outward angle. Chicken wire would probably work fine, depending on where in your yard you’re erecting an armadillo barricade, but it seems to me to be swapping one eyesore for another. You don’t want the holes in your yard, because they’re unsightly, so why would you want a chicken-wire fence?
There are other options, such as trapping them. Call your local animal control office to find out what the laws are concerning trapping nuisance animals. Some people fill in the entrance to their burrows with a mixture of mud and mothballs, but concern for the chemicals in mothballs leaching into the soil makes this less than ideal. Shooting them is illegal inside the boundaries of most cities.
The easiest thing to do is to give the armadillos their own dining area. If you have an area that’s not as visible or prominent in your landscape, water it just before dark so it’s soft and moist. It will attract the bugs and worms, which will attract the armadillos and steer them away from the area you want to protect. If it’s an area you’re considering using for a winter garden, even better. Let the little buggers tear it up for you. Although armadillos are not native to Florida, they’re here now and considering the bad bugs they eat, I don’t mind compromising with them a little.
© 2014 Postscript Publishing, all rights reserved. Audrey Post is a certified Advanced Master Gardener volunteer with the University of Florida IFAS Extension in Leon County. Email her at Questions@MsGrowItAll.com, or visit her website at msgrowitall.com. Ms. Grow-It-All® is a registered trademark of Postscript Publishing.