Little Armored Ones

June 28, 2023

By George Armond

The “little armored ones” have become prevalent in South Carolina.
There are 20 species of armadillo (armadillo means “little armored one” in Spanish) but nine-banded armadillos are the only ones found in the United States. They have been spotted in all 46 counties in South Carolina, according to a S.C. Public Radio report in 2022.
It’s not uncommon to see an armadillo in our area. Here’s a primer on the mammals.

Nine bands
Armadillos weigh 8 to 17 pounds and have small, peg-like teeth. The nine-banded armadillo has a protective armor of “horny” material on its head, body and tail.  It gets its name from the nine bands that wrap around its torso, according to Clemson Extension. Armadillos have a long tail encased in 12 bony rings.

Armadillos prefer dense, shady cover such as brush, woodlands, forests, and areas adjacent to creeks and rivers, S.C. Department of Natural Resources notes.

They like warm, wet climates and are often found searching for food by digging in garden beds and yards, Clemson Extension said. Armadillos eat insects, larvae, small vertebrates, maggots and pupae in carrion, and eggs. They will eat lizards, small frogs, snakes, and the eggs of upland birds. Armadillos make low grunting sounds when feeding or when mothers call their young. Armadillos can hold their breath for up to six minutes, making it easier for them to swim long distances or to forage for food while digging in the soil, according to Clemson Extension. They are usually active from twilight through early morning in the summer and avoid activity during extreme temperatures.

Be Aware
If you see uprooted flowers, turf damage or disrupted insect mounds, an armadillo might be in the area. They create several “cone-shaped” holes, measuring 1 to 3 inches deep and 3 to 5 inches wide, in the ground when rooting, Clemson Extension said. Their burrows measure 7-8 inches in diameter and up to 15 feet deep.

Armadillos burrow under foundations, concrete slabs, driveways, pools, and other structures, but are not considered a threat to crops or livestock, SCDNR notes.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in the southern U.S. some armadillos are naturally infected with the bacteria that cause Hansen’s disease (leprosy) and can spread it to people. However, the risk is “very low,” and most people who encounter armadillos are unlikely to get Hansen’s disease.

Fences or barriers can be the best way to keep armadillos at bay. SCDNR suggests burying a fence 12 to 18 inches and to extend it at least 3-4 feet high.
There are no known repellents or “frightening devices.”

In South Carolina, an armadillo can be trapped and dispatched on site. It is illegal to transport and release an armadillo to a new location, according to SCDNR.
Armadillos can be captured in single-door cage or box traps and two-door cage or box traps. Only use traps that are professionally manufactured when trapping armadillos as armadillos can destroy traps that are poorly constructed. Set traps along pathways to burrows and along fences or other barriers where armadillos may travel.

To discourage armadillos, Clemson Extension suggests  removing cover or brush from areas where you might expect them. They prefer to dig burrows in areas with cover, so removing the cover will make the area less attractive and “feel less safe.”