The armadillos have arrived

Larry Woody • Nov 20, 2017 at 4:31 PM

The other day a neighbor who knows I’m a hunter called with an odd request. He asked if I would come over and shoot three armadillos that were rooting around in his back yard.

I explained that I couldn’t do it, due to a local ordinance against discharging firearms inside the city limits.

He asked what he could do about the armor-plated, prehistoric-looking creatures, which had his wife scared to outside. I told him what we’re all being told by our wildlife professionals: learn to live with them.

The little football-sized critters are here, and probably here to stay. A few years ago armadillos joined the migration of coyotes (and perhaps cougars) from the Southwest, and quickly became common sights in Middle Tennessee.

Their Tennessee invasion occurred virtually overnight.

I saw my first armadillo some 40 years ago on the side of the road during a family drive through Florida. It was such an unusual slight – a shell-covered, long-nosed, bristly animal lying on its back, claw-tipped paws pointed skyward – that we pulled over to take a closer look.

In ensuing years on our annual Florida trip we started seeing armadillos plastered on roads across Georgia, each year getting closer and closer to Tennessee.

The first one I saw in the state was about 12 years ago in Hardin County. A couple of buddies and I were headed home after dark from a deer hunt and one darted across the back- road in the headlights. We heard a thump under the truck – the armadillo version of Taps -- and stopped to check it out.

The armadillo had tumbled into a ditch. One of my buddies walked over and nudged it with his toe. The armadillo, evidently just dazed, sprang up and went for his britches leg. My buddy fended it off with a drop-kick.

Armadillos are not aggressive – this one was probably just addled and confused and wasn’t actually attacking. However, they are known to sometimes carry leprosy bacteria and it is advisable not to mess with them.

The only harm armadillos do – other than scaring the daylights out of you when you step on one in the dark – is digging holes. They subsist on worms and grubs, which means they are constantly digging. They can tear up a lawn, garden or golf course, and their den burrows present hazards to livestock.

A friend in Giles County claims the armadillos that invaded his farm a few years dig into mounds of fire ants – another invasive species -- and eat the larva. He says he’ll take the armadillos over fire ants.

Armadillos have no natural enemies. They rank at the bottom of the food chain for predators, who find them hard to kill and apparently not very tasty.

Since they eat mostly grubs, they are almost impossible to trap.

In Tennessee armadillos can be dispatched year-year-round without limit. But they are primarily nocturnal – my neighbor’s recent visitors being exceptions -- and therefore difficult to hunt.

Most nuisance species, such as coyotes, can be trapped and hunted, and their population controlled to some extent. That’s not the case with armadillos. Their only major enemy is the automobile.

It looks like Tennessee’s “possums on the half-shell” are here to stay.

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