Armadillos take a chomp out of fire ants

Meet the nine-banded armadillo, scourge of fire ants.

That armor-shelled little nuisance burrowing through your suburban lawn might be your new best friend.

Armadillos, it turns out, eat fire ants. They feast on the developing eggs laid by the queen, and probably do cut into infestations, according to Larry Gilbert, the Brackenridge Field Laboratory director at the University of Texas, in a website post.

Of course, that means you take your pick of pests.

Since the first armadillos were spotted in the Lowcountry in the late 1990s, the invasive species from the Southwest has swarmed the coastal plain and show up as far inland as the foothills. They dig their way through gardens, lawns and any other loose dirt looking for grubs and worms to eat. They are virtually unstoppable burrowing machines. Once they make themselves at home, it can take a professional animal trapper and a lot of chemical repellent to discourage them.

Armadillos have become enough of a pest that the S.C. Department of Natural Resources regularly fields complaints, and it’s open season to hunt them on private land, even at night with a permit.

But then, unlike fire ants, they don’t sting.

Apparently they don’t do too good a job at pest control, either. Gilbert said that if the horde of armadillos in Texas could do proportional damage to the fire ant population, there wouldn’t be any fire ants left.

Greg Yarrow, Clemson University wildlife professor, laughed a little when asked if an armadillo would be any consolation for a homeowner fighting off fire ants.

“Well, it can help, but it’s not going to solve the problem,” he said. And armadillos also are notorious for burrowing under houses and rubbing their shells against the floor joists.

“It sounds like somebody’s sawing it apart,” Yarrow said.

All in all, Gilbert recommends another animal pest controller for fire ants — phorid flies, which also predate on them. So, meet your new best friend, the humpbacked fly.

“Some can be serious indoor pests,” noted the Clemson entomology website. They breed “in drain pipes, the bottom of trash cans, under kitchen equipment, on aging fruits, in broken sewage pipes, on medical wastes and in potted plants or vases with flowers. These flies can mechanically transport disease organisms from their breeding locations.”

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