Grit Blogs >

Lake Cottage at Flint Creek


Bobcat Fever: The Loss of a Good Feline Friend

Linda and Burt Crume 

Mac in the snow 

Before Bunny Feet, our current vermin chaser and garden cat, there was Mac.

Mac was found scavenging for food at the local fast food drive-in and was brought to our old neighborhood by the owner of a sour little Dachshund that had chewed the pedal-rest off a Chickering baby grand piano. Mac didn’t stand a chance of relaxing there, so he was given to another neighbor. 

The second neighbor had a large yellow lab (sweet guy) and five miniature Dachshunds. Mac spent most nights and much of the day time locked up in a laundry room because one of the dogs didn’t like cats. Mac was fed plenty there, but he didn’t like being alone so much, and he also didn’t care for the name he had been given (Snickers).

Since our yard was larger than others on the street, I was spending a lot more time outside than the other neighbors, and when Mac/Snickers was outside he began hanging out with me. When the neighbors let him out to roam, Mac always came to our patio doors and clicked his nails on the glass until we let him in. When I was in the yard he would lay several feet out of the way of whatever I was doing, but he was always near. 

After retrieving Mac from our house a few times, the neighbors showed up with Mac’s food, a few toys, and his bed. Mac never looked back. He became my shadow and companion no matter where I was or what I was doing. He tolerated my wife and even seemed to like her at times, but he was my cat…according to Mac, and who else mattered?

We moved from the neighborhood and busy street to 3-plus acres at the end of a gravel road on property jutting out into a 600-plus acre lake.  No traffic here to worry with. Mac at first growled at fishermen floating by our property, but when he decided that the fishermen were not a threat to us, Mac would just lay on a bench and watch them float by.

Mac had no threats here other than the occasional bald eagles and maybe some owls. However, Mac was living the good life and now weighed 15 pounds, which made him a bit large when compared to other food sources for the birds. We had seen him chase foxes from the yard, and feral felines in the area didn’t stand a chance.

Mac’s veterinarian had warned us about Bobcat fever (Cytauxzoonfelis) during his annual checkups and had told us how deadly the disease was for domestic cats, but we figured the odds were good that Mac would not be infected. Besides, he had always been an outdoor cat. We hoped that our refuge at the end of the road would provide all the protection he needed.

Bobcat fever is a blood parasite. Bobcats are hosts to the parasite. When a tick bites the bobcat, the tick ingests the parasite. Then, when the tick bites a cat, the parasite is transmitted to the cat. Bobcats carry the disease but do not get it.  Humans and canines are not affected by the fever…only domestic cats are in danger. For many years, the disease killed almost every domestic cat that was infected. Although progress is being made with treatment options, bobcat fever is deadly in more than half the cases diagnosed.

We noticed on a Thursday evening that Mac seemed lethargic, so we took him to the vet Friday morning.  She said she would run tests and let us know.  On Friday we got the news that Mac had been infected, and our vet said she would try to save him. On Saturday morning we got the call that we should come in to see Mac for the last time.

Mac died while we held him.  We had him cremated and his ashes sit behind his picture on our mantel. He was a good hunter, a good protector, and a good friend. It still hurts when we think of him and we still miss him…no disrespect to Bunny Feet, our new yard watch cat.

Final Installment of the Armadillo Conundrum

Linda and Burt Crume 

Armadillo shell

The final solution for armadillos in yards and gardens isn’t simple. Human values and legalities complicate approaches regarding any armadillo solution. For instance:

1. Conflicting laws in different government entities (federal protection areas, states, and municipalities, etc.)

2. Moral, ethical, and religious values

3. Financial considerations ranging from building fences to hiring pest reduction firms to buying traps and weapons

While researching legal ways to stop armadillo damage in my yard, my vegetable garden, and the foundation of my deck, I talked with a regional director of the state wildlife commission and also with fish and game officials.  The high-level official from the wildlife commission said that shooting armadillos at night was permissible, but I could not use artificial light.  When I reminded him that armadillos were nocturnal animals, and artificial light was necessary to find them in the dark, the official said to,” use my best judgement.”

Wildlife officials told me that there was no bag limit (have a freezer full, they said) but hunting at night with lights was against the law…I guess the armadillos must have a strong lobby in the halls of government. So, I asked if it was OK to trap them at night and relocate them?  No problem, they said, but in some states relocation of armadillos was illegal for health and safety issues. Then, how about trapping them and executing them while they were in the traps? The officials looked a little disdainful about that. And, I agree that it doesn’t seem very fair. They did say it didn’t break any local laws.

One woman wrote in an online article that needlessly harming or killing one of God’s simple creatures was wrong.  She said that mankind had a duty to coexist with armadillos as part of God’s plan…God put them here for a reason and man’s plans were no match for…well you know. So, therefore, I figured if I dressed and ate the armadillo that I shot I would be heeding God’s will about dominion over animals and would not be wasting a living creature’s life, but I am pretty sure the damage to my marital bliss would be very high.

The third issue relates to costs of hiring someone else to do my dirty work. I did hire a professional to rescue an adult skunk from the trap sitting under my bedroom window, and he came, removed the skunk for relocation he said, and then entertained us with many wildlife stories he had experienced, and then charged us $75.  Average armadillos per season at the Lake Cottage at Flint Creek is six or seven. It could get expensive. 

A friend who is responsible for grounds maintenance of a city-owned property that includes recreation areas for a town of 25,000 people, including seven 18-hole golf courses and seven medium to large man-made recreational lakes, told me that armadillo defense was not done by shooting or trapping but was best done by starving them out.  He said if you removed the food source for armadillos you would thereby remove the armadillos. I trust that he knows what he is talking about.  He uses a chemical that kills grubs — the main armadillo food source. The potent chemical solution is spread over the ground two or three times a season and he claims that it works.

Along the same lines, next summer is the second season of our two-year program using milky spores, which is a natural occurring substance that kills the grubs that feed armadillos.  The spores use the decaying grub to produce more and more milky spores and the guarantee I got from the supplier said two years should work for a ten-year period. I guess we will see.

I had originally added a recipe for baked armadillo but my wife (who is also my editor) said she was having trouble even reading the recipe, so I removed it. Typing “Armadillo recipes” into any search engine will provide more than ample sources for recipes.

In the “more thoughts” category:

1. Is the armadillo the state mammal of Texas? Heard that it is. 

2. Can armadillos spit when threatened and thereby spread the leprosy virus? I heard that was the case in Florida.

3. The armadillo should be revered as the eater of many harmful insects and should be welcomed in our landscape, and that may be true.

There are many other ideas, but, ONE THING I KNOW FOR SURE* I will keep removing them from my yard and garden by trapping, shooting, scaring and by any means possible.  And, no, they won’t show up on my dining table any time soon.  The love of my life (my wife) will not allow it.

(*My apologies to Oprah Winfrey for carelessly using her catch-phrase.)

Armadillos Don’t Understand “Destructive”

Linda and Burt Crume 

Armadillos don’t intend to destroy sidewalks, houses, and other man-made structures. They are just digging a place to call home or are hungry and searching for the wide range of invertebrates they consume.  Most problems occur when armadillos dig under or along foundations, driveways and other structures.  They also can weaken levees along rivers and streams by digging long tunnels used for escape routes and to provide nests.

Damage to lawns, golf courses, and pastures can result in broken lawn maintenance equipment, and injury to humans and domestic animals may occur when stepping into an armadillo hole.  Of more consequence is the financial cost of maintaining smooth lawn surfaces on golf courses and other recreational areas.

Armadillos favor soft, easy to dig in, fertilized soil — exactly the type of prepared soil we use to grow vegetables and flowers, and grasses designed for humans’ recreational purposes and for aesthetic value.

Methods of control, according to University of Florida publication, The Nine-Banded Armadillo, by Joseph M. Schaefer and Mark E. Hostetler, include:

• Reduce Watering and fertilizing lawns

• Creating barriers (e.g. fences)

• Live-trapping

• Shooting offending individuals.

Reducing watering and fertilizing of your lawn will lessen armadillo damage.  Armadillos eat large amounts of earthworms and insect larvae and a moist fertilized lawn is perfect habitat for insects and invertebrates.

While armadillos can climb, creating a barrier of a 24-inch fence set at a 40-degree angle will keep them out.  You must also run the fence at least 18 inches underground to prevent them digging under.

There are several useful live-trapping methods.  Seemingly, the most popular method in Northwest Arkansas involves trapping armadillos in large, metal cage live-traps available from feed stores, hardware outlets, and many online sources.  These traps are usually set along building parameters or other straight-line obstacles.  Armadillos will bump into an obstacle and them walk along the line of the obstacle until they get around it.  Many people use “wings” of lumber directing the animal into the trap opening.  The use of baits in the trap doesn’t seem to increase the effectiveness of trapping.  Once the armadillo is captured, it can be relocated to an area away from where it was caught.  However, relocating the animal is not legal in some states (Texas and Florida), and moving the animal could help in the spread of disease.

Shooting is another method frequently used to control armadillos.  Hostetler and Schaefer recommend either a shotgun with No.4 to BB-sized shot or using a small caliber rifle.  In most places, using artificial light to aid in the shooting of armadillos at night is also illegal.  The authors also say that armadillo is edible if properly prepared.  There is no daily possession or season limit on them.  In researching for these armadillo blogs, I encountered only one person who said that they had eaten armadillo, and he liked it. 

I did encounter a story (verified by local law enforcement officials) where a man used his .38 Special pistol to shoot an armadillo crossing a road to his yard.  The man shot the animal, but the angle of the shot made the bullet ricochet from the armadillo’s hard shell across the road and into a house-trailer.  The bullet then entered the back of a large recliner where the man’s mother-in-law was sitting.  She was taken to the local emergency room, treated and released.  I have no more information regarding the outcome, and the man was not charged.

The next installment of this armadillo blog will be published next week…stay tuned for “To Shoot or not to Shoot.”  Shooting armadillos will run you afoul of the law in some states, as will relocation in others.  Keeping them as pets is also illegal in some states.  It seems that the only legal course involves recipes and other cooking details.

Next time I will complete this armadillo series with eradication ideas.

armadillo
Photo by Getty Images/klausbalzano

Part Two of the Armadillo Conundrum…About That Leprosy/Spitting Thing

Linda and Burt Crume 

Yes, it appears that the nine-banded armadillo (Dasypus Novemcinctus) found in North America carries the virus for leprosy, which is also known as Hansen’s disease. According to a March 2015, article in "Smart Talk," which is a Smithsonian publication, armadillos are the only mammals besides humans that can host the leprosy bacillus. The New England Journal of Medicine said the Leprosy/Hansen’s virus in humans and armadillos is identical.

Trailing Armadillo Leprosy Blog

The only way for the disease to be transmitted is by handling an armadillo or ingesting the flesh…well, I don’t anticipate armadillo linguini or burgers on my diet anytime soon. No concern about the disease until I read that armadillos could spit and spread the virus that way? The headline in a Newsweek article from July 2015 screamed, Spitting Armadillos Blamed for Florida’s Emerging Leprosy Problem!  It seems that the normally very placid armadillo loses its cool when confronted by what it considers to be a threat. It rears up on its back legs and hisses…and maybe spits? This can be a problem for many people who trap and relocate armadillos. My live trap is 14-by-14-by-24 inches.  When I approach the trapped armadillo, my trap prevents them from standing on their hind legs, but does not stop them from hissing and possibly spitting at me. A scary scenario considering the disease can lay dormant for 25 years and more, according to the Smithsonian publication.

However, in a National Public radio story from July 2015, Leprosy from an Armadillo? That’s an Unlikely Peccadillo, NPR’s Nancy Shute said she’d contacted Dr. Richard Truman, acting chief of the laboratory research branch of the National Hansen’s Disease Program in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. According to Ms. Shute, he’s authored 31 articles on armadillos and leprosy, and uses armadillos to study the disease. The comforting words from Dr. Truman are that 95 percent of humans are completely immune, because of genetics. He says, “All wild animals can harbor infectious agents that are harmful to people. If we leave animals alone and exercise caution they don’t pose a risk to us.”   Maybe Dr. Truman should chat with the armadillos that tear up my yard and garden like hungry pigs shoving their snouts through buckets of curdled milk and hammered corn.

So, only 5 percent of humans are not immune to leprosy, according to Dr. Truman of Baton Rouge, and not all armadillos carry the Leprosy bacteria, according to Stephanie S. Smith, PhD, and writer for “Information Central Blog.” Dr. Smith says only 15 percent of armadillos carry the disease, making it more unlikely any of us will get the disease…if we stay away from these roly-poly animals.

But, staying away from armadillos, and all other wild animals, is increasingly difficult in the South. The encroachment from new housing construction, new commercial ventures, and the general spread of human populations leads to more and more conflict between wildlife and humans. In the past four years of living at the end of the road surrounded by water and forest, we’ve encountered 20 armadillos, six raccoons, two nutrias, eleven opossums, and a dozen or so bald eagles using our backyard trees to sight fish on the lake. I don’t even try to count the deer. In the next few weeks, I will address in more detail varying ideas and attitudes related to living among wildlife and removing those we don’t want.

The "Facts" About Armadillos

Linda and Burt Crume 

My first awareness of armadillos involved family road trips from northeastern Oklahoma, where armadillos didn't seem to exist 50-60 years ago, to the Texas Panhandle and eastern New Mexico, where armadillos did exist. The highways we traveled on our family trips were scattered with dead armadillos that had met their demise jumping bumper-height when scared by rapidly approaching automobiles.

Armadillo side view

Armadillo means "little armored thing" in Spanish. They originated in South America and 9,000-year-old records exist of recipes for the preparation and ingestion of these mammals. One recipe calls for roasting the armadillo in its shell. Modern researchers have tested the recipe, and it appears to be genuine. More modern recipes can be found on the internet, and Texans love the creature enough to have named it the state mammal, although I haven't found the official state recipe (nor have I looked for it).

When I started this blog piece, I was certain that I knew much about armadillos. I knew that they dug multiple holes in my lawn and garden while they searched for grubs, worms and insects. I knew they were nocturnal and were rarely seen before dusk and after dawn. I knew they dug burrows for hiding during the day and to have a place to bear offspring. I knew that the litter was always of four same-sex creatures.

Another fact I "knew" was that the creature would jump into the air to confuse its enemy, and when it landed, it scampered to safety while its less-capable opponent was left in awe regarding the athleticism shown by the roly-poly creature (the auto was not around during the evolution of the armadillo, and the jump of the armadillo unfortunately has made it bumper height - depending on the size of the vehicle).

Other facts I knew with certainty were that they were also called Hoover Hogs because many people who survived the Great Depression had added these mammals to their survival diet as a means to find food when there was none. Also, most, but not all, people thought the animals were ugly, dirty, and carried many diseases, the most repugnant being the virus for Leprosy.

While reading and researching my "facts" to determine validity, I was surprised to learn that many of my facts weren't necessarily true or agreed upon by experts from academia, agriculture, and businesses existing to control the human-animal interaction.

Experts and laymen make many claims about armadillos. In trying to separate the facts from the fiction that sometimes makes a good story, over the next few weeks, I'll examine the items listed below to see if any of the facts I "know" about armadillos really are "facts":

• Do armadillos carry the Leprosy virus and can they spread the disease to humans by spitting on them?
• Will they attack humans?
• Can they destroy buildings and other man-made structures?
• Can they cause serious damage to crops and landscaping?
• Should they either be relocated or destroyed?

Stay tuned!

Copy of Armadillo full face

Harvesting Before the Freeze

Linda and Burt Crume

It happens every autumn, and every year I feel a bit of melancholy and a bit of relief. The weather dips, often accompanied by a cold rain, and we must harvest the last of the garden vegetables before the cold and wet rots them on the vines.

Last Tomatoes
The last tomatoes harvested before the first frost.

Meteorologists predict several days in advance, so we have ample time to plan our strategy. This isn’t something we can complete in an hour. Harvesting isn’t just about picking produce. Once the produce is picked, it must be put up (through freezing, canning, or drying) or put out (given to family, friends, and food banks).

Oven roasted Tomatoes with herbs
Oven-roasted tomatoes with herbs.

Here in the South, summer comes early and generally stays a long time. Garden planning starts no later than January. As soon as the soil can be worked, amendments are added in — manures, lime, compost, maybe pot ash. Spring vegetables — onions, shallots, leeks, cabbage, broccoli, beets, lettuce, spinach — are planted in February and March. No later than mid-March, tomato, pepper, marigold, and herb seeds are started in the makeshift greenhouse. Squash seeds, butternut, spaghetti, zucchini, and yellow, are planted late April in the greenhouse during the spring rains when no one wants to be out working in the garden beds. Those seeds need only a couple of weeks in the greenhouse; they will be ready to be put into the garden, along with peas, early May.

Summer Planting
Newly planted bell peppers.

In the weeks that follow, summer planting progresses. In their due time, carrot, cucumbers, green beans, eggplant, okra, pumpkins, and melons are planted. In June, the tomato, pepper, marigold, and herbs are brought out of the greenhouse and planted. Sunflowers, some will grow 15 inches tall, some 15 feet tall, are planted to encourage the birds to eat their seeds instead of the budding vegetables.

peppers and marigolds
Bell peppers and marigolds in early summer.

For the next several months, we’re in the garden every day, usually for many hours, doing the things gardeners must do: planting, weeding, tilling, harvesting, dealing with garden bugs and beasts. The weeds get put into the compost pile. The harvest gets washed in the garden sink then taken into the kitchen for processing. The bugs are picked off or sprayed with neem oil. The deer are scared away with waving flags.

Summer Squash
Summer squash babies and flowers.

While the garden harvest is literally the “fruit of our labor,” the labor is hard and dirty. Bags of compost and soil are heavy. Digging causes achy backs. The days are searing hot, and the ensuing sunburns sting. The wretched humidity causes sweat to drip into our eyes and stream down our already dirty arms. Tomato hornworms can be 4 inches long and an inch around; killing them is disgusting. And things that seem like they really don’t matter are sometimes difficult. Some plants grow too thick and must be thinned. Some plants grow in the wrong places and must be plucked out. We’re gardeners; killing plants is hard.

Sometimes, though, not killing plants is hard. We try to be judicious in our planting. We plant what we know we will eat, and we plant in moderation. But sometimes things don’t work out as planned. Our two spaghetti squash plants yielded more than 40 squashes — close to 80 pounds. Our three butternut squash plants yielded more than 30 squashes — more than 60 pounds. But since we struggle to kill plants, we harvested and froze the squashes and gave many away.

The squash plants had wilted away long before the meteorologist’s freeze forecast, so had the green beans, the peas, the eggplant, and the okra. A few of the veggies, the carrots, beets, and leeks, like the cold and can stay in the ground a little longer, but the summer vegetables, the tomatoes, the pepper, the jalapenos, the cukes, must be plucked from their vines.

Empty Bed
Empty garden bed after the final harvest.

In the sweet sunshine on the day before the first fall cold arrives, we fill our baskets with the last of the summer vegetables. We smell the scent of plants that soon will be in the compost pile. We notice the sun a little lower in the sky, casting shadows where none were a few weeks before. We’ll have one more marathon putting up party; we’ll give some fresh produce away. We’ll be tired of cleaning and preserving the mounds of tomatoes and peppers. And we’ll grateful all winter for the delicious food we’ll eat.