If you’ve come across a nine-banded armadillo anywhere in North Carolina, wildlife officials want to hear about it.
Since first appearing in Macon County in 2007, armadillos have been spotted in 46 counties across the state and wildlife experts have confirmed their presence in 27 counties.
“Even in counties where we've had a confirmed observation, we want to continue to get observations from the public so we can determine whether armadillos are really starting to establish a population in a county and if that population is starting to increase in number,” said state biologist Colleen Olfenbuttel.
Wildlife experts aren’t sure exactly how the armored animals are increasing their range, but they suspect warmer winters are making it possible for armadillos to survive farther north than they used to. Unlike many non-native species that cause harm when they move into new regions, armadillos seem to have a limited impact, and they may even help deal with another invasive species – the fire ant.
“One benefit is, if an armadillo discovers a fire ant mound, they will quickly decimate it, which is a benefit not only for certain wildlife species but for people as well,” said Olfenbuttel.
They may dig small holes in lawns or golf courses while foraging for food, but they aren’t generally regarded as destructive.
There is a marginal risk that armadillos could transmit leprosy, but Olfenbuttel said that it's actually fairly uncommon. One study found less than 10% of armadillos carry the bacteria.
The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission is collecting information from the public about armadillos to better document the creature’s range and population numbers. If you see one, you can send a picture and details to inaturalist.org, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or call the N.C. Wildlife Helpline at 866-318-2401 to record the sighting.