Bartow County Extension Agent Paul Pugliese has dealt with the concerns arising from the introduction of a new creature for several years. Once foreign to the United States, the armadillo spread from South and Central America through Texas and the Midwest into the Southeast only recently migrating to Bartow and north Georgia.
"We're getting a lot of calls, more and more in recent years about armadillos," Pugliese said. "They're definitely making their way further and further north here in Georgia. ... In the 1950s they showed up in Florida and started heading north, so in the last 30 or 40 years they've been working their way up in Georgia. But for the most part, they are new to north Georgia."
Complaints from local residents occur from the armadillo's feeding habits. With a diet mainly consisting of insects, the armadillo will dig to locate bugs, worms and beetles, often tearing up grass, plants or anything else in its way.
"They're basically insect feeders, they feed on grubs and earth worms and beetles and even ants. So, some people would consider them beneficial in that regard because they do feed on other insects but the problem is, they'll get into a well manicured landscape or garden and when they're digging for these grubs and other insects in your lawn they can tear up your lawn really bad," Pugliese said.
An in-depth publication made available by the University of Georgia College of Agriculture and Environmental Science provides detail about the armadillo and its habits.
"Damage occurs to lawns and landscape due to digging for insects and other food items. Shallow holes 1 to 3 inches deep and 3 to 5 inches wide, usually shaped like an inverted cone, are the most common landowner complaints. Armadillos can uproot flowers and other plantings through their foraging. Damage is generally local and of a nuisance variety more than a large scale economic loss," stated UGA's Michael Mengak in an article on the nine-banded armadillo.
Mengak explains how some 20 separate species of armadillo exist in South and Central America while only the nine-banded armadillo has made the move to American soil. The creature is a mammal classified in the same category as anteaters and sloths; hairless, protected by a shell-like covering made of bony skin, the armadillo has very few natural predators and thrives well in warm environments.
"From my observations, I have seen enough of them on the side of the road to say that they are definitely well established in the county," Pugliese said. "Of course, if there's nothing to keep them in check, no predators or other natural ways, their population could very likely increase and become more and more a nuisance especially in urban areas."
There are very few methods for combating the problems caused by armadillos. Repellents have not been successful and armadillos tend to be proficient climbers making fences ineffective. Pugliese suggests trapping the pests if creating a problem in lawns and gardens. Armadillos are not protected in Georgia and therefore are open for hunting or trapping year round.
"They're not really a health hazard to people or anything like that, they're just a nuisance, one more thing we've got to put up with, as if fire ants aren't bad enough. We've just got another invasive pest here that we're just going to have to live with because they're basically here to stay," Pugliese said. "Some people like to eat armadillo, they are a delicacy in some places and that's another way to get rid of a nuisance pest. It's another wildlife that we can hunt and keep them in check that way, so that's something we encourage as well."
Mengak's article suggests those opting to hunt the animal use a .22 caliber rifle in accordance with local ordinances and always practice firearm safety.
For more information, contact the Bartow County Extension Agency at 770-387-5142 or visit www.tiny.cc/armadillos.