February 11, 2016

Ambling armadillos right at home in Johnson County, further north

Following years of northward migration, nine-banded armadillos are now common in Kansas. Photo courtesy of state of Texas

Following years of northward migration, nine-banded armadillos are now common in Kansas. Photo courtesy of state of Texas

Danedri Thompson
They’re arrival goes largely unnoticed until carcasses pile up on the roadways. So it goes for the ambling armadillo, one of which is now an unremarkable splatter near the intersection of Main Street and Oak Street in Gardner.
Nine-banded armadillos have called Kansas home since the1940s, according to the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism (KDWPT).
“They have been steadily becoming more common in the last 10 or 15 years,” said Mike Miller, Chief of Information Production Section at KDWPT.
In 1981, they had only been documented in a few counties in south central Kansas, but recently, their northward migration has brought the bony-plated mammal to Johnson County.
“In Kansas, it’s just been a slow increase of seeing armadillos,” Miller said. “I think they’ve been as far north as the Nebraska border, but you don’t really think about them until you see a bunch of them on the side of the highway.”
Though armadillos go largely unnoticed, Miller said they can be a nuisance to homeowners and on the occasional golf course. They burrow into the earth to build habitats, and forage for grubs, ants and termites by digging.
“They do cause some damage because they spend a lot of time looking for grubs and worms,” he said.
Armadillos don’t seem to notice humans or cars until it’s too late, Miller explained.
“They can actually run pretty fast, but they don’t pay a lot of attention,” Miller said. “You can be very close to them and they don’t seem to really acknowledge you.”
Their defense mechanisms include rolling into an armored ball, and jumping vertically when startled. It’s the jumping that lands the mammals into the undersides of passing vehicles.
July is breeding season for the state animal of Texas, the armadillo. While mating occurs during the summer months, the mother will not give birth until November. Each embryo will become a matching set of four identical, quadruplet armadillos.
Native to South America, scientists at one time theorized they needed warm climates to thrive. However, their decades-long journey northward has researchers rethinking that hypothesis. They now suspect the animals rely on softer soil, because they must be able to dig easily wherever they live.
The nine-banded armadillo is not a protected species in Kansas or elsewhere, but hunting, handling, capturing or eating the beasts is probably not a good idea.
The animals carry leprosy.
“There are leprosy cases as a result of contact with infected armadillos,” Miller said.

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