More Foreign Invaders: Possums on the Half Shell



Robyn Brown, a Nashville buddy and talented gardener, told me last week that her garden is under siege by armadillos. I was all ears. The nine-banded armadillos are rooting around her garden like little armored feral pigs. These foreign invaders arrived in Western Kentucky over twenty years ago. There was road kill to prove it. They are edging their way to Louisville. I don’t like the sound of this

J. Paul Moore, also of Nashville, posted recently on Facebook: “Armadillo (I am assuming) damage in my garden is about to end my gardening career!  They are tearing up my garden paths like a tiller has been over them.”

Shutterstock Photo
Shutterstock Photo

For those long suffering with this Cenozoic mammalian relic, I doubt it would make armadillos sound more appealing to know they’re sometimes jokingly tagged as possums on the half shell. Surely not in Texas, where the first sightings were reported in 1849 and any affection long ago went stale. As time and armadillos marched on, Lone Star State motorists began clobbering them with their cars and trucks. Who better than Townes Van Zandt to write a song about armadillo road kill?

Robyn Brown hasn’t yet hit an armadillo with her SUV. She does chase after them in her garden with a broom. She explained in an email, “I swatted him on the back and he shot straight up in the air, turned around and looked at me and casually waddled off ignoring me completely.”

Robyn Brown Stands Ready.
Robyn Brown Stands Ready.

Armadillos are dumber than the dirt they burrow. Their talon-like claws work like plowshares.

And they’ve been linked as carriers of leprosy too.

Though they are the latest garden and bacterial threat, armadillos are not an immediate concern in Louisville. Still, they are less than two hundred miles away.

It took a couple of million years for the the South American native to slowly make its way to the United States. Pity the old Louisville and Nashville Railroad no longer runs. Armadillos could have hopped the L&N and been here in a couple of hours. Barring a return to cold winters, they’ll slowly ramble on to Louisville.

In spite of chronic complaining about this past cold Kentucky winter, it wasn’t that cold. The low temperature of – 5 is an average Zone 6b winter. We haven’t had and average winter in awhile. The ground didn’t freeze below an inch. (Our frost line for water lines is 30”, to give you some idea of how cold it can be.) I remember three winters in the last 40 years when it has gone to – 20 F or colder. Winters like that might keep the armadillos away. Or maybe not. There are reports that they’ve settled in Nebraska and Central Indiana, regions colder than Kentucky.

Armadillos have marched on since Taulman and Robbins made this 1996 projection.
Armadillos have marched on since Taulman and Robbins made this 1996 projection.

In somewhat related news, hawks and coyotes pose concern for young armadillos, but the adults should have a free run.

Deer and coyotes wandered onto our city street during the last two years. A baby fawn was born six weeks ago at our front doorstep. The deer and fawn adopted our garden as their preferred grazing ground. They fancy my hostas. Their scat is scattered across the scree beds. The coyotes, meanwhile, seem to be feasting on chipmunks that began overrunning the garden five years ago. I’m glad the chipmunk numbers have been diminished. I worried our house foundation might be compromised by their tunneling.

There are a couple of more troubling misfits encircling Louisville. The thousand cankers disease was reported a few years ago in Eastern Tennessee, and recently there were reports that it was discovered in Indiana and Ohio. One could presume that contaminated walnut timber was transported across Kentucky. The Southwestern USA native disease poses potential destruction to our precious black walnut.

Shutterstock Photo
Shutterstock Photo

The Asian longhorned beetle is parked across the Ohio River in southern Ohio. It’s a slow moving pest. That’s the only good news. The bad news, really bad news, is that’s it’s a voracious omnivore. The fast moving Emerald ash borer, with its fondness for Kentucky’s four native ash species is hunkered down and laying waste to virtually every ash tree in its path, but only ash species. The Asian longhorned beetle has an appetite for maple, buckeye, beech, sycamore, cherry and willow. And the list goes on.

Possums on the half shell travel at an estimated 2 1/2 – 6 miles per year. I’ll be in my mid-90s by the time they arrive in Louisville. Bring ‘em on! And if I can remember the melody, I’ll still be humming Townes Van Zandt’s song.

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Allen is the former Director of Special Projects for Jelitto Perennial Seeds. It was a fun job. Jelitto offers over 3,700 different seed choices of perennials, alpines, herbs and ornamental grasses. Prior to his 22 years with Jelitto, he owned Holbrook Farm and Nursery in Fletcher, North Carolina. Allen gardens in Kentucky with his wife, Rose Cooper, who is sometimes known as Rose Bush.



  1. Great read! I have discovered that if I don’t water my garden so much and keep it drier that they stay away more. When you water it brings the grubs and worms closer to the surface where they can really do some damage.

  2. Run for the hills! It’s an invasion! Having just moved a year ago from 32 years in Central Texas, I know those armadillos well! Did you know that a great deal of the roadkill is not caused by cars hitting them? But, as you mentioned, they jump. So when a car/truck drives over them…they jump. You get the picture.

    One spring I kept hearing scuffling noises and would see my mulch moving! I discovered 3 babies rooting around UNDER the mulch. I will admit they were pretty adorable. And they stuck together even when running back home!

    Armadillos are virtually blind. Set up a “run” made with 2×6 lumber where you have seen rooting. Then you can place a trap at the end of the run. Be sure to put some goodies in the trap…we used peanut butter. Then you can relocate them in the woods somewhere. As for those other invaders…run for the hills!

  3. They’ve definitely arrived in Tallahassee Florida — and they’re repelled by the smell of vinegar.

    I find where they’ve nested and pour white vinegar over the entrance several times a day. In a few days they’re not nesting there anymore.

    Then I put bricks in front of the entrance and the rutting stops as they move on — to my neighbors’ yards.

  4. As a Texan I can definitively say that armadillos are a menace to one’s garden. I don’t like to kill them, but my dog does. I hate having them tear up my garden, but I feel badly when the dog kills them, too – they have a sort of creepy stupidity that makes one have compassion for them, but boy, are they destructive! Such a dilemma! And don’t even get me started on fire ants – they don’t ruin one’s garden but OY! are they vicious! And sticker plants too – those three things are my nemises. Oh well, there’s always something…

  5. Good lord, no armadillos here in NH thank God! The map shown said it was a predicted for them to travel to Mass? I doubt they would survive there with the cold winters they have-although our winters are starting later with global warming… And the Emerald Ash Borer is here 🙁 A lot of people are worried about the damage they are going to do..

    • My reaction exactly. I am glad these critters are not in WI. I thought rabbits were a pain in the rear, but now I’m just grateful to not be dealing with armadillos.

      We’ve got emerald ash borers here too. Makes me wonder what trees will be left 20 or so years from now, as there is always some invader taking down whole species.

  6. Oh no! Not one more invasive!! I live in Michigan so hopefully I won’t see armadillos, but I have decided that I need a 12-step program for people who compulsively pull invasive plants. But I just can’t keep up. Seems like I learn about a new one and then suddenly I see it on my property. That happened with Sow Thistle (Sonchus arvenis). I was out today by our pond cutting all of the bastards down, then up in the woods pulling Japanese Hedge Parsley. Then it will be time to cut down (and apply herbicide to the stumps of) Buckthorn and Autumn Olive. And the list goes on.

  7. By the way, Susan, armadillos are naturally migrating, so I don’t think the term invasive applies to them! We have tem here in Georgia, but so far I haven’t seen too much damage except for rooting around mulch. Maybe should reconsider mulch!

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