Mike Adams: The prehistoric looking nine-banded armadillo can be a pest in yards and gardens

The nine-banded armadillo is a prehistoric looking animal that has fossil records in North America dating back 60 million years. That creature was the size of a rhinoceros!


Lucky for us, our present day critter is much smaller; adults can grow up to about 18 pounds.

This Central and South American native mammal has expanded through Mexico into the Southeast including our state. Introductions of armadillos also occurred along the east coast of Florida as early as the 1920s.

Armadillos are common throughout most of the state and are considered to be naturalized. Armadillos are now found in upland forests, fields and even suburbia throughout Florida, except in the Keys and parts of the Everglades and Big Cypress swamp.

Though common in Texas and throughout the south, armadillos are occasionally found as far north as Missouri and Nebraska. However, cold weather limits the northern boundary of their range.

These peculiar animals have a shield-like shell covered with scales. Joints in the shell are flexible, which enable the animal to bend and twist. Only the ears and belly of the armadillo are without bony armor.

In Spanish, armadillo or quirquincho means small mammal with shell. Armadillos have poor eyesight and hearing, but a keen sense of smell. Despite their awkward appearance, armadillos are agile runners and fair swimmers, if necessary.

They dig or modify burrows for their homes or to escape predators.

Armadillos have a unique reproductive feature. Pregnant females always give birth to identical quadruplets. She produces one egg that splits into four identical offspring that are either all female or all male. This trait differs from most other mammals. The young look like the adults except that they are smaller and their pink body armor remains soft and leathery for some time, becoming darker and harder with age.

These animals are, to some degree, beneficial. They feed primarily on insects and their larvae. We humans cannot help but appreciate the fact that armadillos eat large amounts of cockroaches, ants, wasps, flies, beetles, earthworms, grasshoppers and even snails and scorpions. They have been known to dig up entire ground yellow-jacket nests.

Armadillos usually search for food by rooting or digging in ground litter but will occasionally eat berries and mushrooms.

Their feeding behavior can cause problems for property owners. When looking for insects in the soil, armadillos dig numerous holes in lawns, golf courses, sports fields, flowerbeds and gardens. They also uproot flowers and other ornamental plants. Armadillos can burrow under driveways and porches that may cause structural damage.

To reduce armadillo damage to your lawn, keep watering and fertilization to a minimum, if at all. Moist soil and lush vegetation bring earth worms and insect larvae to the surface of the soil. Watering gardens in the morning is preferable since the soil can dry out in the afternoon and not be as easily detected by nocturnal armadillos. They are also particularly attracted to fermenting fruit. Pick up fallen fruit to avoid attracting unwelcome wildlife.

Armadillos are fascinating in other respects.

When they need to cross narrow water bodies, they often walk on the bottom underwater. If it is a wide body of water, they will inflate their stomach to twice its normal size, allowing for enough buoyancy to swim across.

When startled, armadillos often leap high into the air, and then run quickly to a brush pile or nearby burrow. However, they are one of the most common victims of highway mortality. The armadillo’s instinctive response of jumping upwards when startled may be effective for escaping a lunging predator, but not a car or truck passing overhead. Also, many are killed by dogs and coyotes.

To contact Mike Adams, email adamscience@windstream.net.