Beating pesky armadillo comes down to a nose

Bill Quiroz tried to pull out an armadillo that was burrowing under his fence in Summerville but couldn’t budge it.

How do you snatch a burrowing armadillo? Well, if you’re brawny, 6 feet 1 inch tall and grab it by the tail ... um, you don’t.

Bill Quiroz tried. But he couldn’t dislodge the nine-banded armadillo burrowing under the fence in his Summerville yard recently.

“The harder he pulled on his tail, the deeper the armadillo dug,” said Karen Quiroz-Williams, his mom.

That’s the dilemma facing owners who try to rid their properties of a vagrant pest that tears up lawns, gardens and opens holes under patios and fences: The animals are virtually unstoppable digging machines.

Except there’s a secret: the noses. Armadillos are thought to hunt largely by smell, and scent-sensing membranes make up about one-third of their brains, said Joshua Nixon, a research zoologist in Minnesota who runs Armadillo Online!

“Anything with a strong, noxious odor can help evict an armadillo from a den,” he said.

The nine-banded armadillo is an invasive species that has found its way from the Southwest into the Southeast, through Georgia and into the Carolinas and Tennessee.

The bandied about “possum on a half shell” looks like a cross between an anteater and a platypus. It has a clueless sort of aimlessness that gives it an exotic charm for many people.

But it’s 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; the state even allows night hunting for them with a permit.

Armadillos tear up ground and are claimed to damage foundations, a claim that is somewhat overstated: The modest tunnels they leave simply need to be filled in again.

They do carry leprosy, but reports are rare, according to the University of Georgia’s Center for Urban Agriculture. Despite any number of cases of people handling the animals, there are only two known cases of a human getting the disease from a wild armadillo; and in both cases the people ate raw or undercooked meat.

Once you have them, though, you’re in for a siege if you want to get rid of them. Nixon’s site offers a number of tips but doesn’t blink about the difficulty: “Remember if all else fails,” he writes on the site, “you can always rely on a professional animal removal service.”

And the trapper likely will have his hands full.

Reach Bo Petersen at 937-5744, @bopete on twitter or Bo Petersen Reporting on Facebook.