Little Armored One
In Spanish, that’s armadillo, the leathery-shell-covered mammal that is becoming more common in many parts of Missouri. Armadillos were known from several southwestern Missouri counties as early as the mid-1970s. Their range has expanded now to the east and north, so that they can be found almost anywhere in Missouri. In recent years, the animals have been reported from counties along the Mississippi River, from Cape Girardeau to St. Louis, by citizens who were unaccustomed to seeing them in that region. Reports have also increased from Missouri counties north of the Missouri River. They have even been found in a few southern Iowa locations. The extension of their range was thought to be limited to the north by bitter winter temperatures and ice, but they have confounded some predictions with their continued spread.
In Missouri, armadillos are still most common in our southwestern counties. Any traveler on I-44 between Lebanon and Joplin will see many road-killed armadillos. The species has a habit of jumping up in the air when startled, and that leads to many deaths from highway vehicles. During the summer, armadillos are most active at twilight and at night.
Although generally harmless, armadillos can become a nuisance in home landscapes when their digging leaves scattered holes and dirt piles. Fencing can be installed to protect gardens and other valuable plantings. As with most other nuisance wildlife, landowners do have options for shooting or trapping armadillos that are causing damage to their property. Shooting is not an option in municipal areas where the discharge of firearms is prohibited. Live traps, baited with overripe fruit, earthworms or mealworms, can be placed in areas frequented by armadillos. To enhance the trap, use 4- to 6-inch wide boards at least 6 feet long, placed as wings to help funnel the animals into the opening of the trap.
Armadillos are interesting and unusual in aspects other than just their appearance. Their four young are born in the spring as genetically identical quadruplets. When cornered, an armadillo will curl up into a ball, using its shell as a defensive covering. They use a long, sticky tongue for capturing their insect prey, like an anteater. They can walk on the bottom of a stream while holding their breath for up to six minutes or can gulp air to make themselves float across water. Because armadillos are probably in Missouri to stay, we may as well appreciate them.