Blue Ridge Country - May/June 2019 - 10

C R E AT U R E F E AT U R E

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By NANCY HENDERSON

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r. Timothy Gaudin had known for a while that armadillos were creeping into the western edges of the
Southeast. In fact, in 2011 he and one of his students at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga
published a study confirming the existence of the
odd-looking, armored mammals.
"Around that time, I think, the closest thing to a
mountainous record would've been Big South Fork [Recreation
Area of Tennessee and Kentucky]," Gaudin says. "Somebody
contacted me about seeing an armadillo there."
But it wasn't until about two years ago that Gaudin, a professor of biology, geology and environmental science and an
armadillo expert, started fielding calls from residents and visitors of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and other
parts of the Blue Ridge.
"I started getting these reports from actually in the mountains, somebody who lives in Maggie Valley in western North
Carolina at 3,000 feet elevation," he says. "I just got one last
week from somebody who was hiking up in the mountains in
South Carolina and found one at about 2,000 feet elevation.
And I got a report from Johnson City [Tennessee]."
Unlike some animals that can easily be mistaken for others-
a wolf, for example, that turns out to be a coyote-armadillos
are "pretty distinctive-looking," says Gaudin. "They're hard to
mistake for anything else. So I don't get a lot of false reports on
them. Usually when people see them, they really see them."
Not only are the prehistoric critters migrating here from
Florida and the Southwest, they're spreading faster than when
they first began to appear in the Blue Ridge states in the 1980s.
"We're expecting them to show up in more northerly places
than we ever would have dreamed 10 years ago," Gaudin says.
"It's their time."
Of the world's 21 known armadillo species (most are from
Central and South America), so far the nine-banded is the only
one to show up in the Southeast. "At some level, the mountains are a good habitat for them," Gaudin says, noting that
armadillos feed mostly on insects in moist, soft soils. They also
love blackberries and, because of their thick shells, can with-

10

BLUERIDGECOUNTRY.COM

a possum.

DID YOU
KNOW?
* The armadillo is the
stand the thorns.
only mammal with a
In addition, says Gaudin, "We
shell.
used to think that, because they're
* Armadillos rarely
not very well insulated compared
stray far from some
type of waterway.
to other mammals, they wouldn't
* They always give
deal with the cold very well and
birth to identical
that would keep them out of those
quadruplets. "So if
areas. But it turns out that they are
you see a small one,
a lot less cold-sensitive than we
there are usually
once thought."
three others in the
Still, it's hard to say where ararea that are palling
around with it," says
madillos fit into the mountain ecoDr. Timothy Gaudin,
system, Gaudin notes. They don't
professor of biology,
compete with raccoons or possums
geology and environand aren't generally considered
mental science at the
beneficial pest controllers.
University of Tennes"They seem to go after the nicsee at Chattanooga.
est yards in the neighborhood [to
Oddly, he says, "Nobody has ever seen
dig]," he says, "because those are
them mating."
the best watered and they have the
-NH
most insects."
And then there's that leprosy
thing. Although no cases have been confirmed east of the Mississippi River, the armadillo is the only mammal in the Americas confirmed to carry the deadly disease.
For this reason, and because they're so unpredictable, Gaudin advises people not to touch them.
"They don't bite, but they do have a startle response," he
says. "So if you sneak up on them, they will jump straight up in
the air about three to four feet. And they're heavy enough that
they break people's noses and they knock teeth out."
Generally, though, armadillos are harmless, he says. "Apart
from digging up your yard, they're really not threatening. They
don't get into garbage. But they are quite hard to get rid of. The
easiest way is to just stop watering your lawn and hope for a
dry summer."


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Blue Ridge Country - May/June 2019

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Blue Ridge Country - May/June 2019

Blue Ridge Country - May/June 2019 - Intro
Blue Ridge Country - May/June 2019 - Cover1
Blue Ridge Country - May/June 2019 - Cover2
Blue Ridge Country - May/June 2019 - 3
Blue Ridge Country - May/June 2019 - 4
Blue Ridge Country - May/June 2019 - 5
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Blue Ridge Country - May/June 2019 - 7
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Blue Ridge Country - May/June 2019 - BRPG1
Blue Ridge Country - May/June 2019 - BRPG2
Blue Ridge Country - May/June 2019 - BRPG3
Blue Ridge Country - May/June 2019 - BRPG4
Blue Ridge Country - May/June 2019 - BRPG5
Blue Ridge Country - May/June 2019 - BRPG6
Blue Ridge Country - May/June 2019 - BRPG7
Blue Ridge Country - May/June 2019 - BRPG8
Blue Ridge Country - May/June 2019 - BRPG9
Blue Ridge Country - May/June 2019 - BRPG10
Blue Ridge Country - May/June 2019 - BRPG11
Blue Ridge Country - May/June 2019 - BRPG12
Blue Ridge Country - May/June 2019 - BRPG13
Blue Ridge Country - May/June 2019 - BRPG14
Blue Ridge Country - May/June 2019 - BRPG15
Blue Ridge Country - May/June 2019 - BRPG16
Blue Ridge Country - May/June 2019 - BRPG17
Blue Ridge Country - May/June 2019 - BRPG18
Blue Ridge Country - May/June 2019 - BRPG19
Blue Ridge Country - May/June 2019 - BRPG20
Blue Ridge Country - May/June 2019 - BRPG21
Blue Ridge Country - May/June 2019 - BRPG22
Blue Ridge Country - May/June 2019 - BRPG23
Blue Ridge Country - May/June 2019 - BRPG24
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