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Armadillos, Opossums, and Skunks: Armor, Stink, and Slink

Published In: Identification

The nine-banded armadillo is a strange little mammal covered in bony, dermal plates. They have poor eyesight but a well-developed sense of smell and hearing. They are carnivores that specialize on worms and insects.

Their foraging behavior leaves behind unsightly holes, much to the dismay of homeowners and landscapers. While mostly an aesthetic concern, their foraging can cause mild root damage to certain plants. A low fence can keep them out of mulch beds. Wood or chain-link perimeter fences can keep them off your property.

When startled, armadillos tend to jump straight up into the air, which often ends poorly for them on the roadways.

One of the more interesting facts about armadillos is that they always give birth to four identical quadruplets – they are either all males or all females.

The Virginia opossum, usually just called a “possum,” is the only marsupial native to the United States. While it may resemble a large rat, it is not closely related to the rodents – its cousins are the koala bears and kangaroos! The opossum has a varied, omnivorous diet which may consist of garbage, dead animals, insects, fruit, pet food, and bird eggs.

They can be a nuisance when they take refuge near or under houses or outbuildings. They can be a source for fleas which may get inside and bite humans and pets. Exclude them from attics, decks, crawlspaces, and horse barns to prevent them from setting up shop on your property. Keep garbage cans covered and refrain from leaving pet food out overnight.

Opossums are associated with some diseases like murine typhus (from their fleas) and equine protozoal myeloencephalitis which is potentially fatal to horses. Interestingly, they are very rarely infected with rabies.

The striped stunk is an iconic North American animal. The black coat with a divided white stripe is distinctive of the species. In some regions, it is called a polecat. It prefers a diet of insects but will also eat voles, small rodents, and birds, as well as fruits and vegetables.

The skunk has a potent defense mechanism – a smelly, oily musk – that deters most predators from messing with them. Skunks prefer not to waste their supply of musk and will threaten first with all manner of foot-stamping, hissing, and posturing before resorting to spraying. The spray is surprisingly accurate and can be squirted up to ten feet. Being shot in the eyes can cause burning and temporary blindness (as well as a runny nose and nausea from the smell). Birds of prey, such as the great horned owl, are the main predators of skunks.

Unlike opossums, skunks are highly susceptible to rabies infection. In 2015, wildlife accounted for 92% of rabies cases. Of these cases, bats accounted for 31%, raccoons for 30%, skunks for 25%, and foxes for the remaining 6%. (Centers for Disease Control).

CDC. Rabies. Website: Accessed May 2018.

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