It seems warmer weather has invited a new creature to roam our neck of the woods — or rather prairie, since we’re talking Kansas and Missouri.
The Prairie Park Nature Center in Lawrence is reporting that the armadillo, a foraging, armor-plated mammal that is more commonly seen in warmer climates, has been spotted more frequently in backyards, driveways and even on city streets in the Lawrence area.
And on the Missouri side, sightings appear to be up, too — more in Cass County and not so much in Jackson County.
At the Prairie Park Nature Center officials say they are seeing two or three of the helmet-back critters a week and getting a lot of reports of sightings.
Marty Birrell, nature education supervisor, said the creatures are “expanding their range due to climate change.” She said the armadillo for many years has been transported to this part of the country as inadvertent stowaways on northbound farm machinery.
“They wake up in a combine they had climbed into the night before and suddenly realize, ‘Hey, I’m not in Texas anymore.’ They start scrambling around, foraging, and fall off the machinery onto the road.”
She said typically when seen this far north, the animal is along the roadway and not alive. But she said evidence is showing that their numbers are growing and that a reproductive population exists here.
Birrell believes that warmer winters have allowed the animal to survive and reproduce in this area. Armadillos are interesting mammals, Birrell said. “They give birth to identical quadruplets.” She said they are gradually moving farther north and east.
According to National Geographic, armadillos, typically found in the southwestern United States, usually live in temperate and warm habitats, including rain forests, grasslands and semi-deserts.
Checking a map at the Anita B. Gorman Discovery Center, Bill Graham, a spokesman for the Missouri Department of Conservation, said the northern migration of the armadillos in this area seems to stop at the Missouri River.
Graham said the science isn’t clear whether warmer winters are attracting armadillos to take up residence here, or whether the creatures are just adapting to cool temperatures.
Armadillos can grow to be about 10 pounds, about the size of an average cat, Birrell said. They have a hard outer shell into which the nine-banded armadillo can curl up its head, tail and feet into a ball. They have extremely long and sharp claws and tend to lunge up and outward when they are startled. Also, armadillos can carry leprosy.
“I would not suggest that anyone spotting an armadillo try to capture it,” Birrell said.