Greatest danger is destruction of gardens, flower beds and crops
Armadillos which did not survive their encounters with automobiles have begun to show up along streets and roads in the county. As the weather warms, the mammals native to South America, which previously migrated to the southern United States, come out at night to forage for food.
According to Audrain County Conservation Agent Norman Steelman, sightings of armadillos locally have been limited. "I have not seen many in Audrain County," Steelman said. "They are much more common in southern Missouri, but they don't like our cold winters."
Armadillos go underground when cold weather comes, but are unable to hibernate, so they freeze or starve to death. They can swim, which accounts for their migration.
Because armadillos have very poor eyesight, they venture onto roadways with no regard for oncoming traffic. When surprised, armadillos are known to jump straight up, colliding with passing cars. Along with startling drivers, the impact can damage the cars.
However, the greatest danger posed by the odd-looking animals with rigid shells is that of destruction of gardens, flower beds and crops. In their search for food they dig shallow holes in the ground, and can burrow under foundations and driveways.
Armadillos search for food such as grub worms, ants, termites and beetles. They use their sticky tongues to swallow insects whole. They leave three-toed prints and sharp claw marks. Armadillos are nocturnal, but occasionally move around in the daylight. They sleep up to 16 hours a day.
They generally grow to a length of 30 inches and have poor eyesight, but a keen sense of smell.
Getting rid of a troublesome armadillo can be difficult, Steelman said.
"They are not a protected species, and can be quite a nuisance," he said. "For people who live in the city limits, the best defense is to scare the armadillo away. Some people have had luck with using mole poison or other repellants. Armadillos also can be live-trapped."
It is possible there is a link between Hanson's disease (leprosy) and interaction with armadillos, but 95 percent of the human population is not susceptible to the bacteria that causes leprosy, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Health Resources and Services Administration website (www.hrsa.gov). The site also states that leprosy is not highly transmissible, is very treatable, and is not disabling, with early diagnosis and treatment.
"People who handle armadillos for some reason should take the same precautions they would when working with any wildlife," Jim Low, spokesman for the Missouri Department of Conversation, said. "This includes avoiding contact with dead or sick animals and wearing latex gloves when handling."
Steelman said anyone with questions can contact him at (573) 473-8000.