The nine-banded armadillo has been naturally expanding its habitat north from Central America since 1849. They're common in the southeastern part of the country, but throughout the century they’ve started to move further north and east.
Sightings in Missouri started about 40 years ago. They use to be rare, but now they’re a lot more common.
“Hundreds, we’ve had hundreds so far this year it’s safe to say," says James Dixon, a wildlife damage biologist for the Missouri Department of Conservation.
Rising numbers and rising frustration
Dixon helps people who are experiencing damage caused by wildlife. His area covers just south of Kansas City down to Arkansas. He says that armadillos in Springfield, Mo., are definitely on the rise.
“About any neighborhood you stop in if you ask folks what do you think about armadillos they could probably walk you over to a house where they are having problems with armadillos,” says Dixon.
These problems are not related to the some of the stranger facts about armadillos, like that they can carry leprosy and give birth to identical quadruplets. It’s that they dig.
Armadillos can do a lot of damage to a yard, especially well kept yards, overnight. The animals are not aggressive, but they survive by using their claws to dig in the ground, using their snouts to find invertebrates like insects and worms in the soil.
Though this is extremely frustrating to homeowners, Dixon says they are not considered an invasive species. Their migration northward has been a natural expansion. But how far north they’ll continue to go is hard to say.
How far north will they go?
“Decades and decades ago when armadillos were moving out of the south the prediction was central Arkansas was as far north as they’d be able to survive. And they just moved up to the boundary and blew right past it,” says Dixon.
“So I think anybody that tells you how far north armadillos are capable of going. They’re really taking a gamble in making a prediction, because our predictions have been wrong in the past.”
There have even been armadillo sightings in Illinois and Nebraska, and some scientists hypothesize that they’re hitching rides on produce trucks.
Their migration is weird because Armadillos don’t like cold temperatures. They survive in the winter cold and summer heat by burying into the ground. Studies at Missouri State University are looking at how soil moisture, and the number of freeze days could be affecting their ability to survive further and further north in Missouri and in other states.
“If it’s due to something internal in their biology? Or if it’s due to climate change? Who knows! But it’s something that’s occurring naturally,” says Dixon.
Dixon says he thinks that the Kansas City area is not far off from seeing more armadillos in its future.
Armadillos in Kansas City, dead or alive
The only armadillo I’ve ever seen in Kansas City was the stuffed one at the Discovery Center on Troost Avenue. I put out a call on Facebook to see if people had armadillos sightings in our area, dead or alive. I got a mix of responses; from Olathe, I-70 near the speedway, Blue Springs and Harrisonville. A few people spotted live ones, but the responses were primarily about spotting dead armadillos on the side of the road.
Todd Meese holds the same position as James Dixon, only he covers the northern part of the state. He says in his seven years at the department he hasn’t had a call on an active live armadillo in Jackson County, but the number of carcasses he’s finding is on the rise.
He just recently came across one in Independence, Mo.
Meese says the northern boundary of occurrences seems to be the Missouri River. But a few years ago, he got a call about a live armadillo north of the river in Platte County.
“We thought the river would be a natural barrier, but no, they can swim,” says Meese. “But what’s going to harm them, once you get up north of the river and in these northern counties, the winters are a lot harsher.”
Meese never found the armadillo in Platte County, but still says he expects to be dealing with armadillos more and more in and around the Kansas City area in the years to come.
“It’s not a case of if but when,” says Meese laughing. “The habitats here, the foods here. We do have harsher winters, but you know depending on how long you’ve been in the Kansas City area, there are some years we don’t have snow.
Todd Meese, and James Dixon both say that even though these animals can be so destructive, they're just another species people are going to have to deal with.
If you find an armadillo you can:
- trap it and release it; overripe fruit and worms are a good bait.
- shoot it if it is doing damage to your property, but there are regulations. Check them out here.
- call Animal Control, a pest removal businesses or the Missouri Department of Conservation.
- eat it. There are tons of recipes out there for armadillos.
- you can leave it alone and make a video of it like Cindy Taylor did near Holden, Mo.