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Armadillos, Squirrels, Cats, Dogs—The Problem Doesn't Matter; Mothballs are NEVER the Answer

Question. I have a real problem with armadillos digging up the yard. I have tried hot pepper, mothballs, fencing...all to no avail! Any suggestions other than waiting up all night to shoot them?

    ---Colleen in Lake Charles, LA

A local armadillo has decided that my garden is his lunch counter. He's destroyed about 150 feet of shrubs and flowers by either pulling them out of the ground or exposing the roots. Now he's trying to burrow under the house. I have tried pepper spray, moth crystals and a trap—all to no avail. (I'm not sure I baited the trap with the best thing – I was advised to try rotten fruit and hot dogs.) Do you have any other suggestions? Please?

    ---Noreen, just outside of Covington, LA; on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain

Answer. We Northerners tend to chuckle when we hear about armadillos, but those armored oddities can be real pests down South. First, of course, as the title of this article foreshadows, don't use mothballs or moth crystals or moth fill-in-the-blank anything. Even though it's still legal for companies to sell these cancer bombs, they're probably the most toxic product a homeowner can buy. AND they don't work (as your tale of woe reveals and as countless other listeners have lamented).

Although they recently renewed the registration of both toxic compounds used in the manufacture of mothballs and crystals, the EPA also warns that they are dangerous stuff. Their website notes that short-term exposure to the most common active ingredient, naphthalene—by smelling or touching—is "associated with hemolytic anemia, damage to the liver, and neurological damage. Symptoms of acute exposure include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, malaise, confusion, anemia, jaundice, convulsions, and coma. Again, this is from the EPA, not some hippy dippy anti-pesticide group. The EPA also classifies naphthalene as a possible human carcinogen.

Nice stuff, eh? You can see why so many garden writers and 'natural remedy' books seem to think that mothballs are some kind of nutrient. Again, you don't need these chemical killers to achieve anything in your home or landscape. The environment doesn't need them either.

OK—now onto the weird armored foe of our Louisiana listeners. Armadillos are notoriously hard to trap, as they greatly prefer live food. Much like moles, their diet consists mainly of worms and grubs in the soil, and they can tear up the landscape quite a bit looking for that food.

Some experts seem to have mastered the art of trapping them using live worms (in a porous bag to keep the worms from wriggling away). You can try this tactic yourself, but trap placement is also said to be key (and darned difficult). And armadillos carry lots of diseases—rabies and salmonella in addition to the legendary leprosy pathogen—so I'm liking that 'hire an expert trapper' option more every minute.

Oh, and its even more imperative to call in a pro when they're trying to get under a house, as that's typically the behavior of a mother making a den. Many people have disposed of a mom-adillo only to learn just how nasty a house can become when unattended young pass away under the floorboards. An expert trapper will remove any babies and rig an exclusion device that doesn't allow the mother's rentry if she isn't successfully trapped.

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Of course even successful trapping doesn't stop new ones from moving into the area. If you live in dillo-land, keep them out of garden areas with a fence sunk a solid foot in the soil and extending upwards several feet. If repel them you must, try a heavy application of deer repellent or one of the castor oil products designed for use against moles and voles; some are also labeled for use on armadillos. (I take a bottle of the Messina company's "Armadillo Repellent" to some appearances to get a quick laugh from people who think they have it bad with squirrels and deer.) A fence whose bottom is treated with deer repellent or castor oil to discourage digging sounds like an ideal solution.

Question. We have a neighbor who lets his dog roam freely; he relieves himself on our shrubs so often he's killed some. I tried granular mothballs, but it didn't work. Our community has a leash law, and dog control has been to their house a few times but the dog still roams and the neighbors just don't care. Is there anything I can use to stop this?

    ---Gail in Massachusetts

Answer. Again, not mothballs or flakes. I see three choices. One, erect a nice little fence; sink it a few inches into the ground and it'll keep rabbits out as well. Two, get a motion-activated sprinkler like "The Scarecrow" and aim it so the dog gets soaked with cold water every time he comes around. And/or three, keep calling the dog catcher until the authorities finally have to do something; if the neighbors have to pay a fine, maybe they'll stop being the nightmare next door. Just don't do anything that would harm the dog; it's not his fault he's owned by oafs.

Other emailing mothball users (all of whom note failure with their use, by the way) include Beth Ann in Norwich, CT whose problem is voles and squirrels munching on her Spring bulbs; Sharon in North Central PA who is terrified of harmless bug-eating garter snakes; and Sallie In Southeast NC who has roaming cat issues.

All but Sharon will find multiple solutions to their specific problems in the previous Questions of the Week linked to above. And guess what? Those answers don't include mothballs!

Oh, and what about Sharon's snakes? Sorry, Shar—but the problem here is your attitude towards nature, not anything those harmless creatures are doing. I know you said in your email, "and don't tell me to get over it", but as you seem to already know, that is the answer. Share the planet, please.