Posts Tagged ‘armadillo’


We like to think of our common fauna as having always had their current range. It would be news to most people that at the time of European contact, red foxes were uncommon south of New York State and were unknown south of the northern tier of Pennsylvania. The clearing of the forests allowed red fox to colonize southward. Similarly, the Virginia opossum did not range north of a line that stretches from extreme southern Ohio through to Virginia.  The expansion of agriculture, the killing of predators, and a generally warming climate have allowed the opossum to make it into Canada.

In recent decades, a new species has begun to shift its range.  The nine-banded armadillo is the only xenarthran found north of Mexico. This is a bit of an oddity in the history of mammals on this continent, because the US was once home to several species of ground sloths and a species of glyptodon. Until around the year 1850, there were no armadillos in the US.  But after 1850, the armadillo became known in Texas. Maybe it swam the Rio Grande. Maybe soldiers coming back from the war in Mexico turned them loose. We really don’t know.  But Texas became the epicenter of armadillo’s colonization of the United States.

It began its range expansion from Texas up through the central states. It is well-established in parts of Missouri, Southern Illinois, and Kansas.  They have also colonized Eastern Colorado. So these creatures are quite cold tolerant.

In the 1920s, it was introduced to Florida, and from Florida, it has launched its eastern colonization. Because it had a comparatively late start, this colonization northward has been quite a bit behind the colonization of the Central states.

But it is on its way.  We now have reports of them in the Smoky Mountains National Park, Smoky Mountains National Park, parts of Western North Carolina, and even sightings of them in Southwestern Virginia.

Milder winters are certainly helping their advance. Their diet is primarily insects, and when the winters fail to kill of their food, the armadillos have much easier time surviving in the cooler parts of North America.

This colonization is a sort of replacement. During the Pleistocene, a close relative of the nine-banded armadillo lived over a broad swathe of the United States. This relative, the beautiful armadillo (Dasypus bellus), lived from New Mexico to Florida and up to Indiana and Illinois. This remains of this species are quite difficult to tell apart from the modern nine-banded species, but it is likely that these animals behaved quite similarly.

However, because it lived in these regions during the Pleistocene, it had to have been even more cold tolerant than the nine-banded species.

So armadillos went extinct from much of the United States when the Holocene rose out of the Pleistocene, and now we have a very close relative restored during the Anthropocene.

Of course, the armadillo invasion means some potential risks. Nine-banded armadillos are a vector for leprosy, and it is quite possible for humans to catch leprosy from armadillos. As armadillos become more common in the United States, the potential for a rise in leprosy cases certainly exists.

So the armadillos have hit the Southern Appalachians. In a few years, we’ll hear of them in the Central Appalachians, and then they will reach their projected northern range limit in Pennsylvania and Ohio. They could potentially colonize the Eastern Seaboard as far north as Massachusetts.

So they march northward, armored up for protection.



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From BDN.com:

Roadkill is part of the routine for highway crews in northern Illinois, but the dead armadillo spotted along a Will County road was a bit of a surprise.

Armadillos are normally found in warmer areas in the South.

Homer Township highway crew member Dan Bills found the armadillo while doing road maintenance last week. Bills tells the (Tinley Park) SouthtownStar he’d seen armadillos while visiting Texas but was shocked to find one in suburban Chicago.

David Robinson works for the Will County Forest Preserve, and he says he wonders if the armadillo had some “human assistance” getting so far north.

Wildlife biologist Joe Rogus also says he’s never heard of any armadillo sightings in the area. He says armadillos are expanding their territory but aren’t capable of traveling long distances.

In case you didn’t know, nine-banded armadillos are going to colonize much of the US and possibly parts of Canada. It’s just a matter of time.

I’m sure that Illinois doesn’t have very strict laws regarding the “harvest” of armadillos. So it’s likely someone caught in Downstate Illinois, where they are now well-established, and brought it up to outskirts of the Windy City.

One of the ways coyotes spread east so rapidly is that people were intentionally introducing them as a game animal or as pets. Breeding coydogs and selling them as a new breed isn’t a new thing. I know that sounds weird, but in the days before there were strict wildlife ownership and transportation laws, it wasn’t unusual for people to trap coyotes and bring them into areas where there would be foxhound trials. A coyote is much more challenging animal to chase than a red fox, and many hound enthusiasts liked to see what their dogs could do in pursuit of a very big fox that might turn and fight back.

Amardillos are slowly colonizing the US, just as the Virginia opossum did. In the old days, the experts of the day would say that opossums won’t make north of Virginia. Then it was “north of the National Road” (US 40). Then it was Canada. Now, I think Montreal and Minneapolis are the official northern limits of the Virginia possum range.

I don’t think Armadillos will get that far north– unless there is a mutation in armadillos that causes them to grow actual pelts.

But they won’t be confined to the subtropical parts of the country.

One can bet on that.

They already have colonized southern Nebraska.

It gets very cold there in winter– much more so than it does in coastal New York or New England.

They are coming.

Slowly but surely– but they are.

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Nine-banded Armadillo

Now, here’s something you may not have thought about, but they’re coming.

They colonized Texas and the Gulf Coast first. Then they were introduced to Florida. In recent decades, they’ve taken Arkansas, most of Missouri, and they are becoming more and more common in Illinois.

Now, I should state that this particular invader isn’t all that bad. It’s a relatively innocuous creature that eats mostly insects and occasionally scavenges when their invertebrate prey becomes scarce. About the worst thing you can say about them is that they sometimes dig up landscaped lawns.

The species I’m talking about is the nine-banded armadillo (Dasypus novemcinctus). Now, during the last Ice Age, a relative of this species lived in much of the central and eastern US. It was called the beautiful armadillo, and it was believed to have looked just like the nine-banded species, just significantly larger.

Twenty years ago, it was believed that the nine-banded armadillo would not expand its range into the northern half of Missouri.  Ten years before that, it was accepted wisdom that the armadillo would have never made it north of Arkansas. Today, we wonder exactly how much of Illinois they are going to colonize.

This species has been introduced to Florida, and from there, it has expanded its range as far north as South Carolina. It has already colonized much of East Tennessee, except for the higher elevations. I don’t know when my state will get them, but it’s just a matter of time until we do.

In fact, here is there projected range map:

Armadillo range

The area in red is where the nine-banded armadillo currently lives. The pink area is the projected range for the species.

Yes, there could armadillos on Cape Cod, in Manhattan, and in the leafy suburbs of Pittsburgh. If these animals were introduced to California, they would thrive in most of the state and then would expand their range northward up the Pacific Coast into British Columbia.

And if you thought Virginia opossums were the strangest animals around, wait ’til you get armadillos!

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