HIGH POINT, N.C. (WGHP) — North Carolina has been seeing more and more armadillos over the years with sightings hitting a new record in November of 2021, according to the NC Armadillo Project.
During the month of November, seven armadillos were spotted across Buncombe, Cleveland, Graham, Henderson and Jackson counties. This is the first time that armadillos have been seen in Cleveland and Graham counties.
While that may not sound like a lot, this is the most armadillos seen in the state in any single month to date. The previous record, five, was hit in March of 2021.
So far in 2021, 34 armadillos have been spotted. That’s nearly double the 19 armadillos spotted in 2020. It’s unlikely that December will add many more to that count, if any; there have been no December armadillo sightings in North Carolina except for one in 2020.
Over the last several years, armadillos have been seen in Avery, Buncombe, Cherokee, Clay, Cleveland, Gaston, Graham, Guilford, Haywood, Henderson, Jackson, Macon, McDowell, Polk, Robeson, Scotland, Swain, Transylvania and Wake counties.
This wave of armadillos known to travel through the southern United States has been moving into habitats further north, including North Carolina, according to the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission.
The NCWRC is asking anyone who sees an armadillo to report it.
The nine-banded armadillo is native to Central and South America and was first recorded in Texas in 1849.
The armadillos have since expanded their range north and east, crossing the Mississippi River sometime in the early 1940s, appearing in western Tennessee in 1980 and reaching North Carolina in 2007, according to the NCWRC.
"As of December 2020, we documented armadillos in 23 counties, stretching from Cherokee to Dare counties," said Colleen Olfenbuttel, a biologist who monitors armadillo expansion with the NCWRC. "We have had reports of armadillos in 57 counties, but cannot confirm all those reports due to lack of pictures or a carcass. And in at least four western counties, the population has become established based on evidence of breeding and young armadillos."
Researchers in NC believe the armadillos are moving into new areas like the Blue Ridge Mountains because of climate change.
“Whether armadillos continue spreading beyond their current range will be largely determined by climate,” Olfenbuttel said. “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 range that armadillos are found across the north and south is expected to increase as global temperatures continue to rise.
"We expect the armadillo to continue to naturally expand its range in North Carolina as their populations increase in North Carolina and in adjacent states," Olfenbuttel said.
Researchers say North Carolinians should not be concerned with armadillos in the state.
"While armadillos are often associated with leprosy, it is fairly uncommon and can easily be avoided by wearing gloves if you ... touch or handle an armadillo," Olfenbuttel said. "The main issue we see with armadillos is the damage they can cause through their foraging behavior, as they will dig up gardens, flower beds, lawns, and golf courses to find insects, grubs, and earthworms.