Armadillos are moving into NC and you can help track them

Native to Central and South America the armored mammals are making their way north and have been spotted across North Carolina for several years now.
Published: Apr. 10, 2023 at 12:45 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - Armadillos aren’t a common sight in North Carolina, they’re most often associated with the South West in the United States as well as Central and South America. But according to experts, their habitat range is growing.

Over the past 15 years, there have been armadillo sightings in the state. The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission wants the public’s help to track the expansion of these unique mammals.

“Native to Central and South America, armadillos have gradually expanded their range into the southeastern United States,” according to the NCWRC.

“The first time [we saw armadillos] was in 2007 in Macon County, it was pretty slow the first few years. However, based off what we saw in other states, we knew we knew armadillos were coming, and they certainly have come. So we went from that one observation in Macon County to now we‘ve got almost 900 observations in 70 counties in North Carolina,” Colleen Olfenbuttel, a biologist for the NCWRC said.

The expansion of territory can be attributed to several factors, and Olfenbuttel does not think the new population is due to humans bringing them across state lines --- for one thing --- they’re not easy to catch.

“It’s not easy to scoop up an armadillo. They can run very, very fast that’s one of their defense mechanisms,” she said.

Instead, there are more likely reasons that North Carolina, and other states in the South are seeing them more expand into their area.

“I think one is as those armadillo populations expanded and increased in those other states that I mentioned, the spillover was naturally coming into North Carolina,” Olfenbuttel said. “I think the other factor is we are seeing more mild winters in North Carolina.”

Colder weather is bad news for armadillos, so with warmer weather the animals are able to venture further north than ever before.

“Armadillos lack thick insulation and must dig for most foods. Freezing conditions can cause them to starve or freeze to death, so mild winter temperature conditions are ideal for them. Given that North Carolina is experiencing fewer long stretches of below-freezing weather, armadillos are expanding northward,” according to the NCWRC.

The NCWRC wants people who come across an armadillo to try and get a picture of the animal, the date and time, and a location (GPS coordinates are the most helpful if possible). Armadillo sightings can be uploaded to the North Carolina Armadillo Project’s website which includes an interactive map where you can see where the most sightings are located.

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You can add to a map of armadillo sightings in North Carolina if you come across one
You can add to a map of armadillo sightings in North Carolina if you come across one(NC Armadillo Project)

The shelled mammals are unique in appearance and are hard to mistake for anything else.

“Armadillos are classified in the same order as anteaters and sloths, and are the only mammals that have a shell, which are hardened skin plates covering their bodies that give them an armored appearance,” according to the NCWRC.

There are 20 known species of armadillo but just one is known to inhabit the Southeastern United States --- the Nine-Banded Armadillo.

“The Nine-banded Armadillo, native to Central and South America, was first recorded in Texas in 1849, but have since expanded their 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,” according to the NCWRC.

So where did they come from?

“Nine-banded Armadillos originated from the tropical rainforests of Central and South America, but have adapted to living in many types of habitat, including scrubland, grasslands, pine forests, salt marshes, , and deciduous forests. Golf courses, parks and cemeteries can also be suitable habitat,” according to the NCWRC.

Western North Carolina is by far the most common place that armadillos have been found, however there are credible reports of armadillo spottings from the far western part of the state all the way to the coast.

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