The armadillo, a fascinating creature with a unique armored exterior, has a rich history in Florida. These fascinating animals have become an integral part of the state's ecosystem, and while they bring numerous benefits, they also have their fair share of health concerns. In this blog post, we'll explore the armadillo's journey in Florida, its benefits, and some common diseases they carry, including their potential impact on human health. Additionally, we'll discuss how to safely handle an injured armadillo and transport it for emergency care.
A Brief History of Armadillos
The nine-banded armadillo, native to South and Central America, belongs to the order Cingulata and is part of the superorder Xenarthra, which also includes sloths and anteaters. With around 21 different species of armadillos exhibiting a variety of shapes and sizes, the nine-banded armadillo has a broad geographical range, spanning from the southern United States to South America.
They made their way to Florida in the early 20th century, likely through trade and travel. By the 1920s, they were established in the Sunshine State, expanding their range to cover most of the southeastern United States. Today, armadillos are common in Florida's woodlands, grasslands, and residential areas, representing just one of many fascinating armadillo species, from the small pink fairy armadillo to the giant armadillo.
The armadillo's most distinguishing feature is its armor-like shell, known as a carapace. This protective covering is made of bony plates called scutes, which are covered with a layer of keratin – the same substance that forms human hair and nails. The carapace provides effective protection against predators and environmental hazards.
Armadillos are primarily nocturnal, which means they are most active during the night. They have poor eyesight but compensate for this with an exceptional sense of smell, which they use to locate food sources. Armadillos are omnivorous, but their diet mainly consists of insects, larvae, and other invertebrates. They use their strong legs and sharp claws to dig for their prey and create burrows for shelter.
These burrows are essential for armadillos, as they use them to escape predators, rest, and care for their young. Interestingly, armadillos are known to have a unique reproductive process called polyembryony. The female nine-banded armadillo typically gives birth to four genetically identical offspring, all originating from the same fertilized egg. This reproductive strategy may have contributed to their successful colonization of various environments throughout the Americas.
Armadillos have few natural predators, with humans being their primary threat. They are sometimes hunted for their meat or captured for the pet trade. Habitat loss and fragmentation due to human development also impact armadillo populations. However, their adaptability and efficient reproductive strategy have allowed them to thrive in various habitats, including those in Florida.
Benefits of Armadillos
Armadillos play an essential role in the ecosystem. They are excellent diggers and have a keen sense of smell allowing them to find insects and invertebrates that hide underground. Some of the benefits they provide include:
- Pest control: Armadillos feed primarily on insects, including ants, and termites, and consuming these pests helps to maintain a balance in the ecosystem and limit the damage these insects can cause to plants and crops.
- Soil aeration: As they dig for food, armadillos loosen the soil, promoting aeration and better water infiltration. This process can improve soil quality and benefit plant growth.
- Scavenging: Armadillos are opportunistic feeders and will sometimes eat carrion. Their scavenging habits help keep the environment clean and reduce the spread of diseases.
Common Diseases in Armadillos and Potential Risks to Humans
Armadillos can carry several diseases that may be transmissible to humans, including:
- Leprosy: Armadillos are the only known non-human animals that can carry Mycobacterium leprae, the bacteria responsible for leprosy. Although the risk of transmission is low, humans can contract the disease through direct contact with an infected armadillo or feces.
- Salmonellosis: Armadillos can harbor Salmonella bacteria, which can cause severe gastrointestinal infections in humans. Transmission occurs through contact with an infected armadillo or its feces, making it crucial to practice good hygiene after handling the animals or coming into contact with their waste.
- Rabies: Although rare, armadillos can contract and transmit rabies. This disease is fatal if not treated promptly, so it is essential to avoid handling armadillos, especially those that appear sick or disoriented.
Safely Handling Injured Armadillos for Transport to Emergency Care
If you encounter an injured armadillo and wish to transport it to receive emergency care, it is crucial to prioritize your safety and the well-being of the animal. First, prepare a suitable container, such as a sturdy cardboard box or pet carrier, with ventilation holes lined with a soft, absorbent material like a towel. Wearing protective gloves and long sleeves, approach the armadillo slowly and calmly to minimize stress. Gently scoop the animal up, supporting its body and limbs, and place it carefully in the prepared container. Close the container securely, but make sure the armadillo can access fresh air. During transport, keep the container in a quiet and dark environment, away from excessive heat or cold. Handling wild animals always carries inherent risks, including potential disease transmission. Therefore, it's best to contact a local wildlife rehabilitator or animal control agency for guidance and assistance whenever possible.
Please note that the author and their associated charity are not responsible for any injuries or damages incurred while attempting to capture a wild animal. Engage in such activities at your own risk.
The author is not an expert in this field, and the information provided in this article and others on nfwrc.org is intended for educational purposes only. Please consult a professional for specific advice or guidance.