Apr 23, 2023 - Energy & Environment

Armadillo invasion: Why the creatures are rapidly moving north

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Watch out, northerners: The armadillos are coming.

What's happening: The scaly critters have slowly but steadily expanded north from Texas for over a hundred years. Now their movement is rapidly accelerating.

Zoom in: The mammals have been spotted recently as far north as Missouri, southern Illinois, Iowa and up to North Carolina, according to David Mizejewski, a naturalist at the National Wildlife Federation.

  • "The predictions are that with the current climate conditions, they're going to keep expanding and they might even get up all the way into New England," Mizejewski told Axios.

The big picture: Climate change will expand the footprint of many species. But others won't be able to evolve and adapt fast enough to keep pace.

  • "What we're seeing with climate change is that some species are able to expand their range — or at a minimum move their range northward," Mizejewski says.

Zoom out: Nine-banded armadillos, the only species of the animal found in the U.S., typically live in the southeastern part of the country. The species was found no further north than Texas in the mid-19th century.

  • But their range has been expanding continually northward since the 1900s — and they haven't reached the full extent of their possible range, according to the NWF. One study predicted they could eventually reach Massachusetts.
  • "The fact that our average temperatures are going up because of climate change has been the main reason why they've been able to expand north," Mizejewski said.

There are other factors that contribute to armadillos' growing range.

  • Nine-banded armadillos have a generalist diet. The creatures mostly eat insects, but they're not picky.
  • Humans have also likely eliminated many potential predators.

Reality check: The northward migration is likely limited by the severity of cold weather, which the species does not have a strong tolerance for, according to the University of Michigan's animal diversity program.

  • But as winter seasons become milder, nine-banded armadillos can continue their migration.
  • The species can survive for short periods of severe cold by staying in a burrow for several days.
  • They haven't migrated into desert regions like New Mexico and other western states due to limited rainfall and sources of water, researchers say.
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