Invaders are coming into Jackson County with their armor-like skin, deer-like ears and a pig-like snout. They’re the state animal of Texas, but armadillos have been spotted in the wilds of North Carolina as well.
Western Carolina University student Lindsey Reinhardt spotted a wild armadillo roaming in the yard of her Cullowhee home in early March. Reinhardt lives in the forested hills behind WCU and many in her neighborhood saw the mammal wandering.
“When we saw the armadillo, it was stopping and smelling things, and then walked right into the woods,” Reinhardt said.
According to the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, there are 20 species of armadillos. The nine-banded, which has been spotted in North Carolina, is native to Central and South America and has relocated to the Southeastern U.S. The nine-banded armadillo is comparable in size to a house cat or opossum, with grey and brown body with narrow armor bands on its midsection.
Armadillos started their way into the Tar Heel state in the early 2000s and are now recorded in 27 counties.
In Jackson County, there have been three confirmed sightings, according to Rob Hawk, director of the Jackson County Cooperative Extension. There was a reported sighting in 2014 near Whiteside Mountain between Cashiers and Highlands; in 2013 near Cullowhee; and a sighting in Birdtown of Cherokee in the winter of 2017.
In the Western North Carolina region, armadillos feed on various insects, like snails, spiders or earthworms. These food sources cause the armadillos to dig holes in lawns, vegetable gardens or flowerbeds while looking for food, Hawk said.
North Carolina’s climate may be keeping the creatures in the area to support the armadillo’s body temperature and eating habits with fewer colder days.
“Whether armadillos continue spreading beyond their current range will be largely determined by climate,” according to Colleen Olfenbuttel, the Commission’s black bear and furbearer biologist. “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.”
The sightings in North Carolina led the Wildlife Commission to open the North Carolina Armadillo Project, a site for people to submit armadillo pictures and findings. To contribute, go to www.inaturalist.org/projects/nc-armadillo.
Erin Jenkins is an intern with the Sylva Herald.