East Coast Armadillo Invasion

Photo: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

The nine-banded armadillo, which was once found only in Central and South America, is on the move due to loss of habitat caused by deforestation and climate change.  This species of armadillo is spreading rapidly east across the U.S., with sightings as far north as Wisconsin and as far east as North Carolina,  and though they are mostly harmless, people should keep their distance because they may have leprosy that could spread to humans if there is significant contact.

Why This Matters:  The spread of these “armored” mammals is now being documented in states like North Carolina that have seen their population grow since they were first sighted in 2007 there.  Researchers are trying to track the armadillos’ spread through the state, noting where the mammals are traveling and if populations are becoming established in new locations in order to do outreach to impacted communities and thus minimize conflicts between people and these animals. People in residential areas consider them a nuisance because they burrow into gardens and stay.  But this kind of non-native species migration from the south is something we will need to get accustomed to given climate change’s warmer winters in some parts of the U.S. and development in previously wooded areas.  We see it happening in fisheries due to warmer waters and now with mammals on land as well.

If You See One

Don’t touch an armadillo if you see one because they have been associated with the spread of leprosy in Brazil, where people catch and eat them.  According to Science News, “Brazilians who hunt or eat armadillos are at a higher risk of catching leprosy than people who don’t interact with the animals.”  While 60% of the armadillos tested in Brazil’s Amazonian state of Pará carry the leprosy bacteria, according to the Greensboro News and Record, only 10% of those in the U.S. have been found to carry the disease.

Why Are They Here?

The Greensboro News and Record reported on the “invasion” last summer — “The habitat has changed vastly,” said Colleen Olfenbuttel, a biologist for the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission. “Up until the early 1900s, a lot of the United States was forested and as European settlers, including farmers, started to clear the land, they actually created habitat for armadillos. They really thrive in secondary-growth areas, where saplings, scrubs and brushes are starting to come up.”

  • If you see one, you should take a picture and upload it to iNaturalist.org via the iNaturalist app, available free for iPhone and Android with the date and time it was observed and its location.

H/T to Friend of the Planet (FOP) Linda B for this story.  And if any of our FOP, and in particular my (Monica) NC nieces and nephews, find one, take a picture and send it to ODP!  We will pass it on!

Graphic: Tim Rickard, Greensboro.com

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