Though native to Central and South America and still relatively uncommon in the Tar Heel State, armadillos have been in North Carolina for the past dozen years after slowly migrating north, with …
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Though native to Central and South America and still relatively uncommon in the Tar Heel State, armadillos have been in North Carolina for the past dozen years after slowly migrating north, with sightings of the mammals confirmed in about a quarter of North Carolina’s 100 counties since 2007.
Though no sightings have been reported in Chatham, armadillos have been spotted in counties spanning across the entire state, from the mountains to the coast — including three counties neighboring Chatham — said Jodie Owen, a spokesperson with the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission.
“Confirmed sightings have occurred in Lee, Wake and Alamance counties, which border Chatham,” Owen said.
For decades, armadillos have gradually expanded their range into the southeastern United States, first appearing in North Carolina in 2007, when the first confirmed sighting of a nine-banded armadillo was reported in Macon County.
Over the past 12 years, more than 170 reports of armadillos have been reported in 46 North Carolina counties, though.
Since 2007, the number of North Carolina counties with confirmed observations is 27, stretching from Cherokee to Dare counties.
Wildlife officials say it’s likely the armadillo is expanding its range naturally throughout the state, rather than being aided by human intervention, according to Colleen Olfenbuttel, the Commission’s black bear and furbearer biologist.
“Whether armadillos continue spreading beyond their current range will be largely determined by climate,” said Olfenbuttel. “Mild winter temperature conditions are good for armadillos. Since they lack thick insulation and must dig for most foods, freezing conditions can cause them to starve or freeze to death. However, North Carolina is experiencing fewer long stretches of below freezing weather, which is allowing armadillos to expand northward.”
State Wildlife Commission officials are asking residents statewide to report any sightings of nine-banded armadillos to the agency to help biologists determine their range in the state.
To participate as a “citizen scientist,” Owen said, volunteers who spot an armadillo in the North Carolina wild are asked to upload and share their photos on the NC Armadillo project, which launched last week on the free online platform iNaturalist. Volunteers may upload photos via a computer at iNaturalist.org or they can download the free iNaturalist app, which is available for iPhone and Android.
Armadillo observations may also be reported to Wildlife officials via e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. The email should include a photo of the armadillo; when it was observed (date and time); location where it was observed (GPS coordinates are best, but a detailed location description is acceptable, Wildlife officials said).
Armadillos are classified in the same order as anteaters and sloths, according to the Wildlife Commission, and are the only mammals that have shells, which are hardened skin plates that cover their bodies and give them an armored appearance.
Of the 20 species of armadillos, only the Nine-banded Armadillo lives in the southeast U.S. First recorded in Texas in 1849, the Nine-banded Armadillo has since expanded its range north and east, crossing the Mississippi River sometime in the early 1940’s, appearing in western Tennessee in 1980 and reaching North Carolina in the late 2000s, primarily from natural dispersal from adjacent states.
In addition to its armor-like skin, armadillos (Spanish for “little armored one”) also have long, scaly tails and a long snout, prompting the nickname “armored pig.” The Nine-banded Armadillo has between seven and 11 bands across its midsection.
They often travel slowly, and in an erratic, wandering pattern as they forage, officials said.
Owen said armadillos aren’t considered a public health threat. Biologists merely want to keep track of their range.
In its established range, armadillos are abundant; but in North Carolina, where the population is still expanding, they are relatively uncommon.
Randall Rigsbee can be reached at email@example.com.