SUMMERVILLE At first glance, Joanna Reese thought a possum was burrowing around her live oak trees in the familys Summerville backyard.
But as Reese approached the ugly rodent, she realized it wasnt a possum after all.
Reese, who moved to the Nexton community only a year ago, was actually very familiar with this armored mammal, having seen plenty of armadillos around her former West Texas home.
I thought Id seen the last armadillo when I moved away from Lubbock, Reese said. Youd see armadillos all over the place out there. I dont know how they found me again all the way from Texas, but they did.
It certainly wont be the last armadillo sighting for Reese in the Summerville neighborhood. Armadillos have invaded the Lowcountry, especially in rural parts of Dorchester and Berkeley counties.
The S.C. Department of Natural Resources considers armadillos a nuisance and a health hazard. They can infect humans with leprosy and a parasite that causes Chagas disease. Chagas disease can cause swelling and fever.
Weve seen a significant uptick in armadillos in South Carolina over the past five years, especially around Walterboro and Summerville, said DNR biologist Alicia Farrell. Armadillos started to migrate east and over the past five years theyve expanded their range, so having them in this is area is not a huge surprise. It was just a matter of time.
DNR cautions residents not to touch armadillos with their bare hands and to avoid contact with their blood and fluids.
Before the 1850s, armadillos werent found north of the Rio Grande River, but they started expanding their range northward. After showing up in Florida in the late 19th century, they moved up the East Coast toward South Carolina.
The first armadillos began to show up along the lower South Carolina coast in the 1990s. Since then, they have extended their range as far as the Appalachian foothills and are still going. Once thought to be limited by cold weather, the pests have shown to be able to dig in to wait out the winter.
There are approximately 20 known armadillo species in the world, and the main one found in South Carolina is the nine-banded armadillo.
This rapid geographical expansion is attributed to the lack of natural predators to control the population. The shell of this critter is so tough it takes the bite of a cougar or an alligator to penetrate.
They are here to stay and will only expand their range and become more and more common over the next few years, Farrell said.
Armadillos are burrowing machines. They plow their way through gardens, lawns and any other loose dirt looking for insects such as beetles, grubs, worms, ants and termites. They burrow 7 or 8 inches in diameter and up to 15 feet in length.
The creatures especially like to burrow near young trees, which is what Reese experienced.
We have these small oak trees in our backyard and they have burrowed at the base of the trees, Reese said. They made these giant holes, and now the root system for the trees have almost been totally destroyed. The trees are starting to dry out. Its a disaster, and its all because of these nasty little beasts.
DNR cautions residents not to touch armadillos with their bare hands and avoid contact with their blood and fluids. File/Staff.
Once they make themselves at home, it can take a professional animal trapper and a lot of chemical repellent to discourage them.
They are starting to become a big problem in the area, said Bill Lamson-Scribner, a horticulturalist and critter expert affiliated with Possum Landscape and Pest Control Supply.
Managing the food source is the best way to control the armadillo population. Using a systemic grub treatments that contain imidacloprid as an active ingredient can be applied to the lawn area in late spring.
There are traps and repellents that have beeneffective as well.
Start with cutting off their food source and then use a trap or repellent, Lamson-Scribner said.
Farrell said armadillos are not attracted to bait in most traps, so funneling the critters towards a trap might be the best strategy.
Put a two-by-four board against your house and just heard them toward the trap, Farrell said.
They have become enough of a pest statewide that DNR regularly fields complaints. Its open season to hunt them on private land, even at night.
Homeowners have the right to trap and euthanize the animal," Farrell said. They can also hire a professional exterminator or trapper, but what a homeowner cant do is trap them and then let them loose on someone elses property.
Reach Andrew Miller at 843-937-5599. Follow him on Twitter @APMILLER_PandC
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