Armadillos Advance Northward As Temperatures Rise

A nine-banded armadillo.

A nine-banded armadillo. National Park Service

In the United States, armadillos were historically confined to Texas and the Deep South, but in recent years the hard-shelled mammals have been pushing north. Scientists believe that climate change has expanded their range by producing milder winters, allowing them to comfortably inhabit new areas, including parts of the Blue Ridge Mountains, The Guardian reported.

“We just don’t have those really cold winters any more, and I’m sure that’s helped them,” Colleen Olfenbuttel, a biologist at the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, told The Guardian. “It’s only a matter of time before we see range expansions into other states.”

Armadillos originated in South America, and have long been common in Texas, where they are the state’s official small mammal. Now, they are reaching as far north as Missouri, Nebraska, and Iowa, with little to halt their advance, The Guardian reported. Able to hold their breath for six minutes at a time, armadillos can cross rivers by walking along the bottom or by inflating their intestines and floating across the top. Their hard shell protects them from predators, and they reproduce prolifically, with females giving birth to quadruplets multiple times over the course of their lives.

Armadillos, which are prone to digging holes in lawns, have proved a nuisance to homeowners in Sapphire, North Carolina, spurring some to place a bounty on the animals. “It’s challenging to deal with armadillo damage,” Olfenbuttel told The Guardian. “They are hard to trap, and I don’t know if there’s a repellent for them,”

Armadillos were first sighted in North Carolina in 2007, with their numbers recently growing in the mountainous western half of the state. “As long they have water and places to dig up, they can move in,” Lynn Robbins, a biologist at Missouri State University, told The Guardian. “But people are still astounded to see them.”