ORANGEBURG -- The armadillo is rarely grouped with dolphins, alligators, sea turtles and other fauna associated with the Lowcountry.
But the armored mammal already has its thick, dull claws bored firmly into the sandy soils of inland Beaufort County and is burrowing its way deeper and deeper into the area around Orangeburg County.
"I probably have had more calls this year than last," said Charles Davis, the Clemson Extension agent in the Orangeburg area. "They are increasing their range and they are becoming more of a nuisance. But it is not a huge, huge issue."Although that range is limited somewhat by cold temperatures -- the animal does not like it when its below 36 degrees and above 85 degrees -- they have spread to many areas of the state in recent years.
Beaufort County pest control businesses say they've noticed a slight increase in complaints about the banded diggers rooting through flower beds and burrowing on golf courses to snack on ants, termites and other small invertebrate, but they say alligators and raccoons are still the primary nuisances.
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"I don't know why they're expanding their territory," Joe Maffo, owner of Critter Management, said Friday. He said the frequency of armadillo complaints has increased over the last year and a half. He guessed about 10 percent of his calls are for armadillos, mainly in Bluffton and parts of Beaufort.
Maffo said he's seen armadillo holes up to 3-feet deep, but said the creatures are easily captured by setting a live trap over their burrows.
"They don't seem to be particularly smart," Maffo said. "They're not hard to catch."
Tracks Wildlife Control in Beaufort got between 13 and 17 calls last year about the animals, according to owner Cliff Boatright. That was only a slight increase from the year before, he said.
"Almost all the calls come from Bluffton," Boatright said. "I don't know if we've ever had one in Beaufort."
Davis of the Clemson Extension said he receives a call "about once a month" from homeowners complaining about their flower beds and yards being dug up by the creatures.
There is no estimate of how many armadillos live in Beaufort County or the state because a population survey has never been taken, according to Sam Chappelear, a biologist with the S.C. Department of Natural Resources.
Greg Yarrow, chair of Clemson University's Natural Resources Department, said the animal was first spotted in South Carolina on the coastal plain. The animals prefer sandier soils. Due to their temperature preferences, they are primarily active at night.
"This is part of their natural range and expansion that occurs over time," he said. "It is not uncommon for this to happen."
Yarrow said he does not expect the animal to move beyond the Southeast.
Jay Butfiloski, South Carolina Department of Natural Resources fur bearer and alligator program coordinator, said it is believed that the armadillo walked through Florida crossing into Georgia and eventually into the state.
Yarrow said the migration is due in part to a lack of predators.
"Their biggest challenge right now is the highway system," he said. "When they get scared they jump straight up."
A startled armadillo can jump three to four feet into the air, according to the National Library of Congress.
Yarrow said the armadillo also does not move very fast.
"If they don't get hit by the tire of the vehicle, they will get hit by the bumper or the grill of the car. It is not a great adaptive trait," he said. "They did not evolve for the vehicles."
Yarrow said one rather unusual armadillo habit is to go under a house and rub its shell on the joist struts of a home.
"It sounds like a chain saw on the floor joist," Yarrow said.
At this time, anyone with a hunting license can shoot armadillos year-round during daylight hours but no license is required for those hunting within 100 yards of their residence, according to state law.
Staff writer Anne Christnovich contributed to this report.