Out Wit Armadillos

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Outwit Armadillos
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The Astonishing Armadillo by Dee Stuart
Armadillo: Charango, Placenta, Mammal, Family (biology), Order (biology), Xenarthra, Anteater, Sloth, Spanish language, Genus, Species, Nine-banded Armadillo by Frederic P. Miller

Armadillo Diet

The Armadillo's diet consists mostly of insects.  They do most of their feeding on insects they find under your lawn and garden beds! That is why you may awake one morning to find your once pristine and level yard has been turned into a sight many have likened to Swiss cheese.

Armadillo Diet: Foods Armadillos

forage for insects, spiders, and small amphibians. They seem to prefer beetles, ants and termites in their original range.  However, since the mammal has been in the United States they have broadened their horizons with respect to their diet. According to research the armadillo diet includes up to 500 types of food and they appear to be of the few natural predators to the fire ant. They are also known to adapt to eating a more vegetarian diet -bad news for your shrubs and plants!  Armadillos have been known to kill and eat young cottontail rabbits and to eat scraps of carrion. Although the nine-banded armadillo is often accused of eating the eggs and young of ground nesting birds such as quail, birds and their eggs make up less than 0.4% of the armadillo diet.

Armadillo Diet: Physical Attributes

The Armadillo’s diet is secured through the skillful use of its many physical attributes.  From the tip of its nose to the tip of its tail this animal is built for success in securing food. The armadillo uses its long nose to loosen soil before its stocky legs begin to work.  The skill with which they can dig is due to its short, strong legs and very sharp claws that top each toe. The armadillos’, or “the little armored one”, as its name means in Spanish, front legs have four (4) toes, each with sharp, soil cutting claws.  The middle two (2) toes are the longest.  The claws act as sharp cutters while the powerful front legs dig at the loosened soil pushing it under the animal's body. Then the hind legs take over by grabbing the soil and pushing it out of the way.  The armadillo’s hind legs have five (5) toes with the middle three (3) longer than the outer set to help grab and move the soil.

Now we know how the armadillo is able to get to all those great tasting beetles, but how does he know where to find them?  Working at night and underground this visually challenged animal continues to survive quite nicely, but how? Not surprisingly armadillos are equipped with an excellent sense of smell. While in search of supper the Nine-banded armadillos rely primarily on this heightened sense of smell to locate food items, visiting shallow burrows searching for trapped invertebrates, their nose just above the ground, they are able to smell dinner up to 20 cm below the surface. 

When your digging in the dirt you will appreciate all the extra help you can get in grabbing dinner.  Indeed, the armadillo's diet of live insects requires a little help.  In the case of the armadillo a sticky tongue does the trick. Armadillos secrete a sticky saliva that helps the tongue grab onto insects Their tongues are also equipped with rear facing "hooks" that help hang on to their live prey.

Armadillo Diet: Seasonal Variances

Though not often found in areas where there are dramatic seasonal changes, i.e. northern climates, the armadillo's diet does change based on the season.  While the preferred armadillo diet item is the beetle, when it is unavailable they will settle.  When necessary, the armadillo will supplement its diet with fruits, berries and amphibians.

Armadillo Diet: Affect on Mating Cycles

Armadillos, like all species, need to maximize reproduction in order to survive. The best time for the birth of armadillo young is when the food representing the young armadillo’s diet is most available.  Consequently, the mating season for the mammal is in July and August and the birth of the four (4) identical babies occurs in April the following year, coinciding with the best season for the scarab beetle and other insects that make up over 70 percent of the armadillo diet.

Armadillo Diet-Benefits to Humans and the Ecosystem

The armadillo’s preference for scarab beetle makes their digging activities somewhat forgivable for many agriculturalists.  Scarab beetles can be devastating to corn and potato crops and the growing populations of armadillos could be considered a natural, non-harmful method of controlling this potentially devastating agricultural pest!

Armadillos’ affinity for ants and scorpions is also pleasing to many. However, for the backyard gardener and homeowners who take pride in their landscaping, damage caused by the digging may outweigh the benefits that result from the armadillo diet.

 

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