September 6, 2012

Armadillo Invasion?

This armadillo was just one of two found in Scotland County this past week, marking the first time the southern roaming mammals have been officially reported in the region.

While they may not be as celebrated as another refuge from the Animal Kingdom that might be looking for a new home in northeast Missouri, the latest immigrant still has caught the imagination of local residents.

Unlike mountain lions, which have reportedly been sighted but yet to be confirmed to be in Scotland County, armadillos are now on the Missouri Department of Conservation's radar in the northeast Missouri county courtesy of a pair of finds this past week.

Robert Waddell reported an armadillo road kill north of Memphis on Highway 15 earlier in the week. Joshua Marlow then reported a find of an armadillo road kill within the Memphis city limits on Monroe Street near the city light plant.

Conservation Agent Gary Miller stated these were the first two armadillos he had confirmed in Scotland County. He reviewed both incidents, and verified that the two armadillos found in Scotland County were both males.

"I spoke with other area agents about it," Miller said. "The agent in Palmyra said he has had four confirmed armadillos in Marion County and they've had a couple in Macon as well."

According to a recent article by Tim Smith of the Missouri Department of Conservation, the leathery-shell-covered mammals are becoming more common in many parts of Missouri.

Smith reported that as early as the 1970's, armadillos had found their way to southwestern Missouri. Now that range has expanded east and north, with the armored bug-eaters found almost anywhere in Missouri.

"In recent years, the animals have been reported from counties along the Mississippi River, from Cape Girardeau to St. Louis, by citizens who were unaccustomed to seeing them in that region," Smith said. "Reports have also increased from Missouri counties north of the Missouri River. They have even been found in a few southern Iowa locations."

The MDC indicated that the extension of the armadillos habit range originally was believed to have been restricted in the north by winter climates, with frozen ground and ice cover preventing them from feasting on bugs and insect larvae that they unearth.

Smith noted that in Missouri, armadillos are still most common in our southwestern counties. "Any traveler on I-44 between Lebanon and Joplin will see many road-killed armadillos," he said. "The species has a habit of jumping up in the air when startled, and that leads to many deaths from highway vehicles. During the summer, armadillos are most active at twilight and at night."

According to Robert A. Pierce II, University of Missouri Extension Wildlife Specialist, armadillos first migrated to the United States from Mexico in the 1850's. They had been moving north from south and central America and have continued the northern migration to this date, now being found in northern Missouri and southern Iowa.

Pierce explained that armadillos have extremely strong legs that are adapted for digging. Another unique feature is a sticky tongue, that helps them capture insects and other invertebrates they find while rummaging through ground cover.

The extension expert also points out the animal's unique breeding characteristics. Pierce stated that a female produces only one litter each year, usually in March or April, always giving birth to four young, all of the same sex. He explained that the fertilized egg inside the mother, divides into four eggs, each exactly the same, which grow into four identical quadruplets.

"The armadillo is the only mammal in Missouri that reproduces in this manner," Pierce said.

In areas of higher abundance, armadillos can be considered a nuisance, as their digging in search of a meal can upend landscaping or garden settings for property owners.

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