ORANGEBURG, SC — The armadillo is often thought of as strictly a South or Central American animal.
But the armored mammal is burrowing its way deeper and deeper into the area around Orangeburg County.
“I probably have had more calls this year than last,” Clemson Extension Agent Charles Davis said. “They are increasing their range and they are becoming more of a nuisance. But it is not a huge, huge issue.”
The armadillo primarily feeds on ants, termites and other small invertebrate. It is a digger and has proven to be a nuisance to some area homeowners.
Davis said he receives a call “about once a month” from homeowners complaining about their flower beds and yards being dug up by the creatures.
Davis said he has not received any calls from farmers about armadillo problems.
“The biggest issue is in pastures where they dig their holes in the ground and it can cause livestock injury,” Davis said.
It is not uncommon to hear of leg injuries to horses and other livestock, he said. “It is not that big of a deal in Calhoun County, since we don't have much livestock.”
Davis said armadillos are not interested in plants or crops, but the insects underneath.
They can't tolerate temperatures above 85 degrees. As a result, most of their activity occurs at night.
While there have been some homeowner complaints, there have not been widespread reports of significant damage.
Orangeburg's SuperSod Manager Joe Livingston said he's only seen them as road kill. The company has received more calls about moles than armadillos.
“I can't think of a time when we have had damage from armadillos and if we did, it was of no consequence at all,” he said.
Although their range is limited somewhat by cold temperatures – the animal does not like temperatures below 36 degrees Fahrenheit – they have spread to many areas of the state in recent years.
Greg Yarrow, chair of Clemson University's Natural Resources Department, said the animal was first spotted in South Carolina on the coastal plain. The animals prefer sandier soils.
“This is part of their natural range and expansion that occurs over time,” he said. “It is not uncommon for this to happen.”
Yarrow said he does not expect the animal to go beyond the Southeast.
Jay Butfiloski, South Carolina Department of Natural Resources fur bearer and alligator program coordinator, said it is believed that the armadillo walked through Florida crossing into Georgia and eventually into the state.
“They are expanding,” he said. “We get scattered complaints about them, especially in the southern lower part of the state. But I have personally seen one at Piney Grove and I-26 in Columbia.”
Yarrow said the migration is due in part to a lack of predators.
“Their biggest challenge right now is the highway system,” he said. “When they get scared they jump straight up.”
Yarrow said the armadillo also does not move very fast.
“If they don't get hit by the tire of the vehicle, they will get hit by the bumper or the grill of the car. It is not a great adaptive trait,” he said. “They did not evolve for the vehicles.”
Yarrow said one rather unusual armadillo habit is to go under a house and rub its shell on the joist struts of a home.
“It sounds like a chain saw on the floor joist,” Yarrow said.
At this time, anyone with a hunting license can shoot armadillos year-round during daylight hours but no license is required for those hunting within 100 yards of their residence, according to state law.