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Armadillos are wreaking havoc on lawns and homes.

David Frasor has trapped enough armadillos to know that if he catches one, others soon follow.

They come through the back yard to the fence at his Clearwater home. And then they start rocking the trap until they liberate their comrade.

It has happened enough that he learned to reinforce the trap. These days, they stay trapped.

A St. Petersburg firefighter, Frasor started trapping armadillos when he realized they were to blame for the large holes in his yard. He knows folks who have had to deal with costly damage from the animals, and he'd like to prevent that.

As the Tampa Bay area has grown, armadillos and other wild animals have come into increasing contact with humans.

Hillsborough County Animal Services says it gets 15 to 20 calls a week seeking help. And the number is increasing.

Armadillos moved into Florida so long ago that some say they might as well be native. Officially, they're considered an invasive species.

Florida's warm climate suits the animals. And with no natural predators, they've thrived.

The population is booming partly because every mother armadillo bears four babies every year.

The five stick together - terrorizing lawns as a group - until the young are old enough to set out on their own.

And then the cycle begins anew.

Homeowners usually notice the damage before they find the source.

The animals are nocturnal and find food by digging for worms and grubs. Their burrowing can damage air conditioning units, sidewalks, lawns and homes.

Not much will deter an armadillo, Florida Wildlife Control owner Mike Spanola said. A fence can stop them temporarily, but eventually they'll start digging somewhere else.

"Ultimately if that animal wants to dig in your yard, it will find a way to dig," he said.

Many people aren't sure how to deal with the them.

Animal control officials won't remove them, so Spanola and other private wildlife removal services are frequently called to help.

Spanola says many of his calls are about armadillos. His Tampa company will set traps for $89 and remove the animals for another $89.

Because armadillos aren't native to Florida, it's illegal to move them. If you trap one, you must either kill it or let it go.

And if you kill it, you must do so humanely. Last week, a St. Petersburg man was accused of cruelty to animals for stomping on a baby armadillo and killing it.

He told sheriff's deputies he was frustrated with the digging.

Sara Gregory can be reached at (727) 893-8785 or