Creature Feature: Armadillo

The Aztecs called them turtle rabbits. German settlers called them armored pigs. Some Southerners refer to them as opossums on the half-shell or Texas speed bumps. Whatever you call them, these fascinating creatures play an important role in the health of our ecosystem. Read on to learn more about the official small mammal of Texas! 

Fast Facts 

  • The name armadillo means “little armored one” in Spanish.  
  • Nine-banded armadillos almost always give birth to four identical quadruplets. 
  • Contrary to popular belief, nine-banded armadillos are unable to roll their shell into a ball. Of the 21 species of armadillo, only the three-banded armadillo can accomplish that feat. 
  • When surprised, nine-banded armadillos tend to leap straight into the air, up to 5 feet! 

What do they look like? 

Here in Texas, only one species of armadillo can be found: the nine-banded armadillo. These little guys are distinguished by the presence of seven to eleven “bands” across the middle of their armor.  

Roughly the size of a small dog, averaging 2.5 feet long and 12 pounds, they don’t have any fur on their brown body save for some hairs under their head and belly.  The most distinctive feature of an armadillo is the bony, armor-like plates that offer protection from predators. They have a long snout they use to root through the soil and powerful claws to dig up dinner.  

What do they eat? 

Armadillos are primarily insectivores and use their keen sense of smell to track invertebrates such as beetles, fire ants, snails, spiders, white grubs, cockroaches and more. They will also eat fruits, seeds, and occasionally carrion. 

What eats them? 

Because of their small size and poor eyesight, nine-banded armadillos fall victim to both larger animals and humans. Coyotes, wolves, bobcats, alligators and even large birds of prey are known to attack armadillos. Most nine-banders are killed by humans, either on purpose for their meat or accidentally by cars. Despite this, the nine-banded armadillo population is considered stable and classified as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List.  

Super swimmers 

While they may not look like it, our regional armadillos are fantastic swimmers! However, their methods are unusual, to say the least. In order to keep their heavy shells from sinking, armadillos will inflate their stomachs to twice their normal size to stay afloat. They’re also known to walk directly across the bottom of rivers and lakes. These unique abilities to cross the water have contributed to the armadillo’s wide population distribution across the United States; nine-banded armadillos primarily reside in the Southeastern U.S. but have been found as far north as Illinois and Nebraska.  

Check out this video to see them in action! 

Regulations and removal 

While armadillos may be considered a nuisance due to their tendency to dig in your yard, it’s important to remember that they consume many creatures we consider pests -cockroaches, grubs, scorpions, termites and more. If you can’t exclude them and are concerned about damage to your plants or lawn, contact a professional for humane removal. Although it is legal to trap armadillos at any time, you must notify the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department before relocating the animal.   

Interested in learning more about local wildlife? Check out these past Creature Features: 

Creature Feature: Owls

Mysterious, spooky, wise, lovable. Depending on who you ask, owls have quite the reputation. With four species found in our area – Eastern Screech, Great Horned, Barred and Barn – it’s likely there are a few living in the woods near you.  

Fast Facts 

  • Owls can turn their neck up to 135 degrees in either direction – 270 degrees of rotation! 14 neck bones – 7 more than humans – allow owls to swivel back and forth effortlessly.  
  • Owls make virtually no noise when they fly. Their wing feathers have comb-like serrations that break turbulence into smaller currents and reduce sound.  
  • Not all owls hoot. Barn Owls make hissing sounds, Eastern Screech Owls whinny like a horse and Saw-Whet Owls are named after the sound they make which is similar to the sound of a whetstone sharpening a saw. To hear the various sounds and calls from owls across North America, check out the Audubon Owls Guide for your phone and I.D. owls on the go.

Owls come in all sizes. The largest owl in North America is the Great Gray Owl which can grow as tall as 32“. The smallest is the Elf Owl – 5-6” tall and about a mere 1 ½ ounces in weight.  

Here in East Texas, if you’re lucky you might see one of the largest owls in North America – the Great Horned Owl. At almost 2’ tall, the Great Horned Owl is adaptable to many habitats, including city neighborhoods, forested areas, coastal areas, deserts and mountains. Listen for the deep, low hoo, hoohoo, hoo that sounds like a deeper a dove’s call.  

What do they eat? 

Great at pest control, a single adult owl can eat up to 50 pounds of gophers, mice, rats and moles in one year. A barn owl family will eat up to 3,000 rodents in one growing season, but they aren’t the only thing on the menu. Owls eat insects, earthworms, fish, crawfish, amphibians, other birds and small mammals too.  

With large eyes and super-sensitive hearing, owls can find the smallest vole, even in total darkness. They use their talons to rip prey into smaller pieces, for better digestion, because they swallow the pieces whole. Bones and fur compact into a pellet which the owl later coughs up. 

Why do we need them? 

Owls play a critical role in nature’s complex food web by helping manage overpopulation. It’s easy to see why farmers like having owls around. Many will install owl nesting boxes to help with pest control, and it’s cheaper and safer than poison. 

Unfortunately, owls, like many birds, are declining in population due to loss of habitat and increased use of chemicals. Good news is that there are ways that you can help. 

  • Use traps instead of poison when controlling rodent populations 
  • Leave dead trees as a nesting or roosting option, as long as it’s not a safety hazard for those nearby. Or consider installing a nesting box for small owls, like the Eastern Screech Owl. 
  • Reduce or minimize outdoor lighting at night, when owls are hunting. 
  • Drive slow and stay alert for flying owls and roadside birds at night.

Test your Birdwatching IQ with the 13 species you can see in Texas.  

Interested in learning more about local wildlife? Check out these past articles: 

5 Steps to Create a Backyard Bird Habitat

Did you know Texas is home to more species of birds than any other state? In fact, we host more than half of the 1,100 species in the US. Here in The Woodlands, we’re doubly fortunate: not only are we replete with resources birds depend on – forests, edges, riparian zones, and native plants – we lie at a crossroads of eastern and western habitats mixed with subtropical and temperate ones. From this diverse habitat springs diverse bird life. Best of all for the local avian lover, we sit smack dab in the central flyway where spring and fall migrations amplify an already impressive diversity of species. 

You need not invest in a pair of hiking boots or high-powered binoculars to take in the spectacle. In fact, backyards and even apartment balconies offer ample opportunity to invite birds in for your enjoyment and their support.   

Start by providing the essentials: 

  • Native trees and plants – they’re far superior to non-natives for providing sustenance and they require less water and care to thrive. Check out these lists of native plants for The Woodlands.  
  • Clean feeders – supplementing what your native plants offer is a great idea as long as you provide quality feed and you clean feeders every couple weeks to prevent disease transmission. 
  • Water sources – birdbaths should be no more than 3 inches deep with sloped sides. Be sure to clean them regularly with soap or a vinegar solution.  
  • Nesting and shelter options – trees, tall grass, and shrubs provide cover for resting or nesting; supplement with bird houses and roost boxes suited to local species you want to attract. 
  • Use biocontrol – applying pesticides rids your landscape of an essential food source for most birds (seeds alone aren’t enough). Instead, invite birds in as a natural pest control.  

For more tips, visit the National Wildlife Federation’s page on attracting birds. 

The best habitats incorporate each of these elements. If you want to make your backyard even more inviting, keep it cat-free. Cats kill an estimated 2.4 billion birds in the U.S. annually, making cat predation the largest human-caused threat to birds. If you can’t keep your cat indoors at all times, bring them in at dusk and dawn, when birds are more active.  

For more resources on native plants for The Woodlands or to learn more about upcoming birding programs, contact enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov 

How much water are you using?

It’s time to evaluate your water use both indoors and outdoors.

Did you know that 10 percent of homes have leaks that waste 90 gallons or more per day? Taking 10 minutes to check for leaks can not only save water but prevent future water damage within the home.  

Audit your home for leaks 

  • Turn off everything in your home that uses water. 
  • Read your water meter. 
  • Wait 15 minutes, and then read the meter again. Did the numbers change? If so, you may have a leak. 

If you’re a Woodlands Water customer, the recently installed Smart Water Meters allow you to view your bill, monitor water usage, identify potential leaks, get notifications about excess water use or weather events that might impact your water use.  Get started today with the WaterSmart Customer Portal here. 

Possible leak?  

Look around and check that outdoor faucets aren’t dripping. Look under sinks in all bathrooms and kitchen. If you can’t identify the leak, call a professional for help. 


How many inches? 

Lawn watering accounts for over 50% of water usage by Woodlands residents. If you’re watering more to account for our current drought conditions, you might be doing more harm than good. St. Augustine grass needs only one inch of water per week. Any more than that can lead to disease, pests and weakened lawns. Not to mention wasted water running off the lawn and into the street grows mosquitoes when it enters the storm drains.   

Audit your outdoor water use 

Have questions about reducing water use indoors or outdoors? Contact our water conservation specialist at enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov 

Behold, the power of invisibility

There are two ways to guarantee that mosquitoes won’t bite you. 

  1. Get a shield 
  2. Go incognito 

Let’s start with number 2 first. What if I told you that there is a magical coating that cloaks you from marauding hordes of blood-sucking mosquitoes, no matter where you go? An invisibility cape that takes about 20 seconds to put on. Would you wear it?  Like standing upwind of a deer hides your location, wearing repellent has a similar effect when mosquitoes try to track down their next target, as explained here in How mosquitoes find you.  

The biggest problem with the efficacy of repellent is that people don’t wear it. If you are complaining about mosquitoes and not wearing repellent, you may as well criticize the government but not exercise your right to vote.

Here are the top 3 reasons people give for not wearing mosquito repellent:

It stinks

Certainly some repellents are more heavily scented than others (we’re looking at you DEET), but two have almost no smell at all. Look at the front of the bottle and go for one that contains picaridin or IR3535 (also sometimes listed by its chemical name, ethyl N-acetyl-N-butyl-ß-alaninate). If odor is your issue, these are the two you want.

It doesn’t work

There are people at universities that make a living studying the effectiveness of mosquito repellents. One thing they can agree on is that there are 4 effective active ingredients. 

Have you tried each of these? Not everyone will find the same one the most effective. Keep trying until one works for you; it might not be the same one that works for your friends.  Also, note the percentage of active ingredient. It tells you how much of every spray is actual cloaking juice. The more active ingredient, the longer it will repel before you need to reapply. If you’re out where ticks are also abundant, choose one that is effective for both and more highly concentrated. 

Active IngredientPicaridinIR3535Oil of Lemon EucalyptusDEET
% Ingredient15 to 20%15 to 20 %30 to 40%10 to 30%
Fights AgainstMosquitoesMosquitoes and TicksMosquitoesMosquitoes and Ticks
Age Restrictions> 2 months> 2 months> 3 years> 2 months
Derived FromSynthetic version of piperine, found in group of plants that produce black peppercornsStructurally similar to the natural substance β-alanine – a component of pantothenic acid (vitamin B5)Derived from lemon eucalyptus tree branches and leaves or a synthetic version of the same (PMD)Synthetic repellent invented by the US Army for use by military personnel in insect-infested areas
Also Listed AsIcaridin, KBR 3023ethyl N-acetyl-N-butyl-ß-alaninatePara-methane-diol or PMDN, N-diethyl-meta-toluamide
Additional InformationNPIC Fact SheetNPIC Fact SheetNPIC Fact SheetNPIC Fact Sheet

I don’t want to bathe in chemicals

Does anyone want to expose themselves to harmful substances? Of course not. Rest assured that repellents are approved through the EPA and safe for use – read the label. If you use fabric softener, you are exposing yourself to more unknown chemicals formulations than you would be with repellent. Some people are sensitive to DEET and can develop a rash. If the concern is to find a more “natural” mosquito repellent, then check out oil of lemon eucalyptus. It’s derived from an actual lemon eucalyptus tree, but standardized so that the same amount of active ingredient is in each batch. See this previous post for guidelines on using repellents safely.  

Back to Number 1

When weighing all the options to reduce the likelihood of mosquito bites, and thus the risk of mosquito-borne disease, nothing beats an impenetrable shield. Anything that physically separates those piercing, sucking mouthparts from your skin provides the ultimate protection. This usually begins in the form of clothing with a tight weave that hangs loosely, away from the body. 

Bug nets around strollers are the best protection for babies before they’re old enough (see chart above) to wear repellent. Bug jackets are available for adults too – and depending on your situation you might consider it! When treating post-Harvey floodwaters for mosquito larvae, Township staff used these to protect against the swarms of floodwater mosquitoes.  

Fighting off mosquitoes starts by protecting yourself but remember that you can also fight back by treating and removing common breeding places around the home. By protecting yourself with these two simple steps above, you can once again comfortably enjoy your time outside. Just remember that you are only invisible to the mosquitoes, the rest of the world can still see you! 

Questions, comments or to report a mosquito concern, email enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov or call 281-210-3800