Armadillos roll into Western North Carolina

Flexible bands of skin on its back hold the hard pieces of its roly-poly shell together. Scales cover much of its body, interrupted by the shaggy, grey hair that covers its belly. Deserving a spot alongside the platypus as one of the world’s strangest mammals, the latest arrival to the Tar Heel State is doing its part to keep the Asheville area weird.

Since May 17, the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission has been asking residents to report any sightings of a creature that has come to the state all the way from South and Central America: the nine-banded armadillo. The call comes as part of the NC Armadillo project, a citizen-science initiative to track the unusual animals.

Armadillos began their expansion throughout the U.S. in the early 1800s. Since their arrival, they have moved north and east, establishing themselves in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee and Kentucky. Armadillos were first seen in North Carolina in Macon County in 2007, and the first confirmed Buncombe County sighting took place in July 2014 near Leicester. Numerous confirmed sightings have since occurred throughout the state, with many more unconfirmed reports — as many as 13 in Buncombe County alone.

Armadillos likely benefit from North Carolina’s increasingly higher average winter temperatures because their shells are not well insulated and do not protect them from the cold. Similarly other animals that are affected heavily by temperature are seeing range shifts driven in part by climate change. One such group is the various salamanders of Southern Appalachia.

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