Armadillo

Although local officials say they’ve been getting reports of armadillos in Webster County for some time, their presence in the county has now been officially confirmed after one was caught on Leeper Lane in Providence last week. The animal has already been confirmed in nearly every other county in western Kentucky.

Providence Police Chief Todd Jones said a local resident reached out to him about the animal on Thursday. He backed up the sighting with photographic evidence.

The armadillo was first spotted by early Spanish explorers, who gave it the name “armadillo,” which means “little armored one” in Spanish. It was later called an “Indian Monster” by King George II, King of England in 1728.

The nine-banded armadillo, also known by the scientific name of dasypus novemcinctus, began the trek that would bring it to Webster County and other areas east as far back as 1850 when it began to migrate north out of the swamps of Central America.

While most people think of the armadillo as a desert dwelling animal, thanks largely to its portrayal in Hollywood movies, experts say the creature is actually born to live in an around water, which as aided it in its migration.

According to armadillo-online.org, “Armadillos like to swim, and they are very good at it. They have a strong dog paddle, and can even go quite a distance underwater, walking along the bottom of streams and ponds. They can hold their breath for four to six minutes at a time. When they need to cross larger bodies of water, they swim across. Because their heavy shell makes it hard for them to float, they gulp air into their intestines to make them more buoyant. The ability to cross streams and rivers has helped armadillos expand their home range.”

“I now see road kills on the Western Kentucky Parkway almost every time I go to western Kentucky,” John MacGregor, a Herpetologist with the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources told the J-E in a 2013 interview. “I have seen them digging for grubs along the roadsides at LBL in January with snow on the ground. They are moving northward from Mississippi, Alabama, and Tennessee and eastward from Missouri, and have invaded southern Illinois and southwest Indiana in recent years. As the climate has gradually become milder more and more armadillos are surviving the winter and the species continues to expand its range. In the mid-1980’s we only had occasional reports of armadillos; by the early 2000’s they had become fairly common as far east as LBL.”

MacGregor stated that an armadillo’s main defense is the large claws it uses to dig for ants and other insects. When spooked, the animal will jump straight up in the air, lashing out with its claws. When vehicles encounter small animals on the road, they often attempt to straddle it with their car. For the armadillo, this is often fatal, as the animal will jump straight into the bottom of the car, often killing itself.

“I recall the first report was a road kill in Aurora,” said Steve Bloemer, wildlife program manager at Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area (LBL).

Bloemer has worked as a biologist since 1982 on this area, bordered by Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley. Aurora, Kentucky lies at the western entrance to LBL on U.S. 68 in Marshall County.

“First there were reports from several counties in the region, then we started finding road kills in LBL and eventually we started seeing live armadillos here,” said Bloemer.

Reports, backed up by photographs, have been confirmed as far east as Rowan County, Knott County, and the Corbin area.

Residents and their pets have little to fear from this armored invader. The armadillo is an insect eater, and like it’s cousin the ant eater they catch their food thanks to a long sticky tongue, which they use to eat beetles, cockroaches, wasps, yellow jackets, fire ants, scorpions, spiders, snails, and white grubs.

“If you encounter an armadillo, leave it alone, said MacGregor. “They can’t bite — they only have 8 tiny peg teeth — but they can seriously scratch you with their long digging claws. If you startle an armadillo it will jump straight up in the air — this is kind of cool to see — but it gets them killed when a car tries to miss one by straddling it on the highway.”

However, residents are urged to avoid direct contact with armadillos when possible. According to a study conducted by Richard W. Truman, chief of the laboratory research branch for the National Hansen’s Disease Program in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, the small insect eater is known to be a carrier of Hansen’s Disease (Leprosy).

According to the study, researchers tested bacteria from 645 armadillos from eight locations in four states — Alabama, Florida, Georgia and Mississippi — between 2003 and 2012. The researchers found infected armadillos in each location. In fact, 16% of the animals tested showed signs of the infection.

However, transmission of the disease from armadillo to human is rare. Only about five% of the human population is even susceptible to infection with the bacteria that causes Hansen’s Disease, and nearly all the recorded cases of human’s contracting the virus from an armadillo have been linked to those who hunted, prepared, cooked and ate the animals.

With only 16% of armadillos carrying the infection and just five% of people able to contract it, and direct prolonged contact with the animal being necessary for transmission, experts say there is no real reason for concern.

Just keep your eyes open and be on the look out for what might be the strangest animal now in the county.

Contact Matt Hughes at matt@journalenterprise.com or 270-667-2069