What do fire ants, Asian tiger mosquitos, kudzu, coyotes and armadillos have in common? They are all non-native to the state of Georgia. Non-native species are animals, plants and other organisms that did not historically occur in Georgia. Currently, Georgia has more than 200 non-native fish, animals, plants and insects that have now found a home in the state and the list is growing.
Some of the non-natives were introduced by humans and others arrived by natural range expansion. Two of the most recent non-natives are animals that have migrated to Georgia from their natural range. Those two animals are the coyote and the armadillo.
We mistakenly assume the coyote is an animal of the western United States. Unfortunately, nothing could be further from the truth. The coyote has now spread across the entire United States. A healthy population is now living in every county in Georgia and is feeding on young deer.
The coyote is normally very elusive and they prefer to roam and hunt at night. You may not often see them but you can be sure they are in the neighborhood where you live. The disappearance of the red wolf during the last century has allowed the coyote to fill that void and migrate to every state in the United States.
The coyote looks like a small dog in appearance but has pointed ears and snout that distinguish them from dogs. Their color ranges from reddish-blond to solid black. The coyote has exceptional eyesight and an acute sense of smell. The male coyote can weigh as much as 40 pounds.
The coyote’s main diet consists of small wild mammals, road kill, and some vegetation. However, coyotes are opportunistic hunters and will kill any small animal including dogs, cats, poultry, and will even kill newborn calves and fawns. If your garbage gets scattered around your yard at night, do not overlook the coyote as the possible culprit. Any food left outside your home is a potential meal for the coyote.
Until recent times, it was assumed that coyotes did not pose a threat to most of Georgia’s wild game. Coyotes do raid wild turkey nest and have eaten wild birds including quail but it was generally thought that coyotes would not attack and eat larger wild game. However, after numerous confirmed photos from trail cameras proved otherwise, we now know they will kill young deer and even turkeys.
Being smart and opportunistic hunters has led coyotes to see an easy meal awaits them at wildlife feeders. Hunters place the feeders in the woods to feed wild game like deer and turkeys and thus attract the wild game to their hunting property. Trail camera photos set up at these feeders often show either a roaming coyote or a coyote eating wild game near a feeder. The coyote is a non-game animal and can be can be hunted year-round in Georgia.
The second non-native animal mentioned above is the armadillo and the armadillo has recently arrived in central Georgia. The armadillo now showing up in central and even northern Georgia in large numbers is the nine-banded armadillo that originated in South America. The nine-banded armadillo is the only armadillo that is increasing in number. Most other species of armadillos are listed as threatened.
Armadillos primarily eat bugs but do also eat plants. Yards and gardens are the place where the armadillos create problems for landowners. They can root up an entire yard in one night. Their destructive digging is the result of their food search. They will also dig deep holes where they will stay during the day before reappearing at night to begin their food search.
I see more and more armadillos hit by cars in this area. Beginning about five years ago the armadillos began showing up in my yard and doing great damage. I have eliminated over twenty-five armadillos in my yard over the last five years.
Armadillos are not a protected species and can be harvested year-round. I thought they had slowed arriving in my yard this year but recently I have removed three. Some people think the armadillo is good table fare but I think I will stick to chicken.
Unfortunately, many of the non-native species like the coyote and the armadillo are here to stay. Non-native species continue to increase in Georgia so do your part and avoid releasing any non-native species into the environment and remove any that might visit your yard.
See you next week.
—Outdoors columnist Bobby Peoples can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.