North Carolina's newest residents: Armadillos

Some unexpected visitors are making North Carolina their new home and the N.C. Wildlife Commission wants the public to be on the lookout.

Armadillos were first spotted in the state in 2008 in Cherokee County.

"Since then, we've gotten 126 observations of which we've confirmed armadillos are in 26 counties but we've gotten reports from 47 counties total," said Colleen Olfenbuttel, biologist for the N.C. Wildlife Commission.

Olfenbuttel says recent mild winters are behind the migration from states with warmer climates.

"It's a reflection of our more mild winters," she said. "It used to be we would have below freezing temperatures maybe for two, three, four weeks. Now, if we have below freezing conditions it may be just a few days and because of that, armadillos are able to survive those conditions and expand their range into N.C."

To learn more about the mammals and any impact they are having on the state, experts have started the NC Armadillo Project and are asking the public to report sightings with photos and GPS coordinates if possible. You can also email armadillo@ncwildlife.org.

"Overall, we don't think they will have a negative impact," Olfenbuttel said. "Because their main prey is invertebrates, there might be a benefit for homeowners because armadillos love fire ants. But, there could be some negative conflicts of just digging into the grass, the lawn, golf courses in order to find those invertebrates."

Armadillos are native to Central and South America and have expanded their range into the southeastern United States.

Olfenbuttel says the mammals are not aggressive and are mostly nocturnal.

While the animals have a reputation of carrying leprosy, Olfenbuttel says it is uncommon.

"It's fairly uncommon," she said. "They did a study and found that anywhere from 0 to 10 percent of armadillos had leprosy. So, it is uncommon but it is possible so just always wear gloves and be safe. I would say as with any wild animal, keep a respectful distance and enjoy watching it. But, if you see a dead armadillo, don't touch it. Or if you do, please wear gloves, as we recommend with anybody that comes in contact with a wild animal, please wear gloves."
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