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Armadillos are making their way into Southwest Virginia

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Virginia Museum of Natural History
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The first armadillo documented in Virginia (in Russell County) is now at the Virginia Museum of Natural History in Martinsville.

A mammal native to South America, but most associated with Texas has been making its way into Western Virginia the last few years. That includes a recent spotting in Roanoke.

The armadillo has mostly been spotted in the far southwest, including in Smyth, Wythe, Wise, Tazewell, Buchanan, and Russell Counties.

Nancy Moncrief is Curator of Mammals at the Virginia Museum of Natural History. She’s tracked the movement of armadillos for years, likely hitching rides on rail cars along the Gulf Coast as railroads expanded in the early 1900’s.

Moncrief knew armadillos were already in Alabama, Georgia, and Florida by the 1990’s, but was still surprised to learn of three Virginia sightings in 2019, since they’re more of a Southern Coastal plain animal. But she also knew more had been seen in Tennessee and North Carolina the last few years.

Moncrief believes the first two spotted (one died in a trap, the other was killed by a dog) got to Virginia on their own. All those spotted thus far are all believed to be males, but Moncrief believes females will be headed to the region soon.

“In most mammals, the males tend to be more adventurous,” she said. “They are the ones that go away from where they grew up. Other people have called them pioneering individuals.”

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Allen Meade
An armadillo waddled into the view of Allen Meade's trail cam in Wise County in September.

She also believes soil moisture will mean more armadillos will make their way into the Commonwealth.

“It’s more important in terms of them being able to find food, be able to penetrate the ground, and get soil invertebrates,” Moncrief said. “They don’t hibernate. So if the ground is frozen, they can’t eat.”

She’s not surprised with how quickly armadillos make their way across the region, saying they can travel as far as two kilometers a day.

“If their tendency is to go in a certain direction, and they don’t find any impediment, then they will just keep traveling,” Moncrief said. She said they can also swim well, and can walk along lakes and shallow stream beds.

The northernmost sighting of an armadillo was in Roanoke in August, but only recently reported by the online journal Cardinal News. Editor Dwayne Yancey's articles include a sighting in Roanoke last summer.

A recent article in The Guardian made reference to their increased presence in Western North Carolina, and efforts to hunt them.

With the increased sightings, Moncrief suspects there will be the likelihood of incidents on Virginia roadways (armadillos ending up as roadkill), as well as those attempting them to trap them in their yards.

“Like the home remedies for people trying to get rid of moles in their yard, it’s the same sort of thing – the armadillos are digging, looking for earthworms and whatever they can find," she said. "It’s going to cause lawn damage.”

Other species that have been making their way into way into the region are fishers (a type of weasel that resembles a cat) and porcupines.

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