Meet one of North Carolina's newest residents: the nine-banded armadillo
The next time you’re out walking along a greenway or hiking in the mountains be on the lookout for one of North Carolina’s newest residents: the insect-eating nine-banded armadillo.
Native to South America, it has distinctive armor-like skin, a pig-like snout, and long tail, and was first documented in Texas in the mid-1800s. Since then, it’s gradually expanded north and east, and now calls most of the Southern US home.
The first documented sighting of an armadillo in North Carolina didn’t occur until 2007. They’ve now been spotted in about 25 counties, including Mecklenburg and almost all surrounding counties.
Colleen Olfenbuttel is a biologist with the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission and author of a study on armadillos in the state. She says they’re very good at adapting to new environments.
“We are just seeing fewer days of below-freezing conditions in North Carolina,” Olfenbuttel said. “It used to be maybe we’d experience, especially in the mountains, weeks of below-freezing temperatures which previously would serve as a barrier for armadillos. They’re very susceptible to cold weather.”
Olfenbuttel said it’s too soon to say just what impact they’re having on North Carolina’s ecosystem. She says they’re nicknamed “ecosystem engineers” because their extensive burrowing creates hotspots of biodiversity for other species. But there’s also a bad side to that digging.
“So we are seeing an increase in property damage,” she said. “Damage to golf courses, cemeteries, and people’s lawns. And it’s not just a matter of ‘Oh, there’s a hole in my yard or a couple of holes.’ The damage can be quite extensive.”
Armadillos don’t pose a threat to people. However, they can carry leprosy, though it’s uncommon. They also can’t see or hear very well, which can make it easy for people to get close to them. But boy are they fast once they sense a threat, Olfenbuttel said.
“I am willing to admit that one time when I saw an armadillo I decided to give chase to see if I could keep up with [it],” she said. “And oh it out ran me no problem. It was so fast navigating through the environment.”
If you see one, do try to snap a photo or video and send it to the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission. That helps the agency track where the armadillos are migrating.