Coming out of a deer stand in the Lowcountry of South Carolina, Nathan Ginter heard a rustle that diverted his attention to a spot along the forest floor.
Nearby stood a collection of odd-looking animals rooting in the dark.
“I put them in the spotlight and there were armadillos all over the place, looking for a certain type of bugs,” Ginter said of the encounter in Hampton County about 10 years ago.
It was a moment he won’t forget, and it’s the kind of experience others in South Carolina should get used to.
Armadillos, hard-shelled creatures associated with the Texas plains and Florida swamps, cross the state as they establish new homes there.
First spotted near the southern portion of the Savannah River in the 1980s, armadillos have since appeared in the Columbia, Greenville, and Charleston areas. One of them was seen on the beach on Kiawah Island in 2020. They have even moved into the mountains around Pickens and Walhalla for the past decade.
It is not uncommon to find a dead armadillo on the side of a highway or a living armadillo wandering around a suburban neighborhood. Animals dig in the earth looking for worms and insects which they find particularly delicious.
“Lately it looks like they’ve just taken off,” said state wildlife biologist Jay Butfiloski.
Biologists in Congaree National Park, southeast of Columbia, saw armadillos in the vast floodplain, and hog hunter Bo Martin said he saw them in Lexington County. The only place he hasn’t encountered an armadillo is the Gaffney area, where he lives.
“They don’t bother a thing, but they’re pretty nasty animals,” Martin said, noting the armadillos “stink”. It’s more or less like a shelled opossum. That’s what they call them in the west. ”
In some residential areas of South Carolina, armadillos are considered a nuisance. Digging can leave lawns pockmarked with holes. Armadillos can also dig tunnels in lawns and under houses.
Some wildlife removal companies run large advertisements aimed specifically at eradicating armadillos from people’s homes and property.
One company, for example, has dedicated several web pages to armadillo control services in Greenville and Myrtle Beach. The website said the company was only moving the animals, instead of poisoning them. Armadillo control services are also advertised elsewhere, including Florence and Anderson.
Butfiloski, of the SC Natural Resources Department, said the armadillos have spread from the sandy area of the Lower Savannah River to places he did not expect. This includes Piedmont and the mountains, areas with thick clay soil that is more difficult to dig than the soft soils of the lower Savannah River basin.
“You found them a lot in the more sandy soil type in the counties, so you thought maybe it was a by-product of the soil types that are common; it’s easy to dig.
“But as you go upstate, there’s nothing easy to dig in that red clay. It doesn’t seem to have stopped them. ”
While the DNR had no statistics last week on armadillo sightings, agency biologist Tom Swayngham estimated there were thousands in Jocassee Gorges mountain reserve alone.
This should come as no surprise to people who live a few miles from Jocassee, North Carolina. The small resort community of Sapphire, North Carolina, has been besieged by armadillos, according to a recent Guardian article. The owners have complained so vigorously that an area resident is being paid to dispose of the animals, the outlet reported.
Armadillos are believed to have entered South Carolina on foot or by swimming from Florida, while others are moving east and north from Texas.
The species most associated with the expanding range is the nine-banded armadillo, which National Geographic says came to Texas in the 1880s from Latin America.
These types of armadillos have hard protective armor on their bodies, heads, and tails, and range in size from 8 to 17 pounds, according to the SC Department of Natural Resources. Some people say that animals look like opossums with seashells.
Armadillos are sometimes killed by cars because animals have a natural tendency to jump – up to three to four feet – when faced with danger. This can cause them to jump into passing cars.
Some people back away from armadillos, but Swayngham said others are fascinated by their appearance.
Scientists and wildlife managers can’t say for sure why armadillos have settled in South Carolina or other states in the South and Midwest. But warmer temperatures due to the earth’s climate change could be a factor. Animals can withstand the cold, but they prefer milder climates.
Or it could just be that animals, by nature, are inclined to move around when given the chance.
Climate change “might be a part of it, but I don’t think it’s the main driver,” said Patrick McMillan, a former professor at Clemson University and host of an educational television program on nature aired at the nationwide.
“Perhaps the main driver is more than these interstate highways and railroads and all the corridors are good habitat for armadillos. They just used them to expand their range. ”
Swayngham said he also suspected that some armadillos had been transported to certain areas and released, although he was not sure why. Last July, DNR enforcement officers found armadillos and other wildlife in a mobile home in Lee County during an investigation into the illegal wildlife trade.
Armadillos are not considered dangerous except that they can carry diseases. Among the diseases associated with armadillos is leprosy, a debilitating disease that can cripple or cripple people and cause blindness if left untreated.
Ginter, a Columbia wildlife removal specialist, said he expects armadillo populations to grow in the capital as they move across the landscape. He gets several calls a month now, up from one a year a few years ago, he said.
“They are pouring in,” he said. “They start to pull the grass out of the people.
McMillan and Butfiloski said people should get used to armadillos.
It’s not worth the state trying to eradicate them, in part because they’re not as destructive as feral pigs, nor particularly dangerous, Butfiloski said.
“Armadillos – you’re going to have to learn to live with them,” McMillan said.
This story was originally published January 1, 2022 7:32 a.m.