A new critter on the landscape

By DAN GEDDINGS
Special to The Sumter Item
Posted 8/12/18

I saw one on a deer drive in the Lowcountry a few years ago. I was surprised because they are nocturnal and seldom venture out in the daylight hours. I've seen them south of Lake Marion for a few years - as roadkill. Lately, I've seen some killed on …

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A new critter on the landscape

Dan Geddings took this picture this past Tuesday of a roadkill armadillo on Pinewood Road just outside the city limits of Sumter.
Dan Geddings took this picture this past Tuesday of a roadkill armadillo on Pinewood Road just outside the city limits of Sumter.
DAN GEDDINGS / SPECIAL TO THE SUMTER ITEM
Posted

I saw one on a deer drive in the Lowcountry a few years ago. I was surprised because they are nocturnal and seldom venture out in the daylight hours. I've seen them south of Lake Marion for a few years - as roadkill. Lately, I've seen some killed on local roads.

One scampered across Middleton Road in front of me, in broad daylight, just a week ago. It had to go up a high clay bank, and I thought I could get out and take a picture, but I was surprised at its speed and agility. That little creature was up and over the bank before I could get a photo, and it swiftly disappeared into the shady woods.

Some of you might say "aw shucks, I've seen 'em around for a while now," and maybe you have, but they weren't very plentiful or widespread - until now. If you've looked at the picture that accompanies this story you know by now that I'm talking about armadillos. They are relatively new to this part of the world.

My first encounter with armadillos was in Louisiana back in 1975. I had thought of them as western animals, from cowboy country, and I was surprised to see them in the piney woods of Fort Polk, where I went for basic and advanced infantry training.

At the time, I figured they had moved naturally from Texas into northwestern Louisiana, but it never occurred to me they would keep moving east, all the way to South Carolina.

After my time in the military, I pretty much forgot about armadillos. I worked for the highway department for a decade in Clarendon, Orangeburg, Calhoun and parts of Dorchester and Colleton counties. I never saw any roadkill armadillos. After the highway department, I worked for a private contractor for many years. I finally saw my first armadillo as a roadkill in the Lowcountry, on Interstate 95, 20 years after encountering them in the swamps of Louisiana.

Recently, a friend sent me an email suggesting that I should write an article about the problems with armadillos. Later, when I saw him at a local event, I told him that I would write that story, but I was waiting until I could get a good picture of one - dead or alive.

I realized that I didn't know much about the little animals, so I've done some online research. Armadillos originated in South America, and the nine-banded species migrated into North America with a range that extends from Texas to South Carolina. They have also moved as far north as Missouri and southern Indiana.

They are in the same family as anteaters and sloths. The word armadillo means "little armored one" in Spanish. The leathery shell protects them from most natural predators. They have a furry underside and heavy front claws that are used for digging deep burrows and foraging for food. Burrows can extend to 15 feet deep and 25 feet long and can damage root systems of trees and shrubs.

Armadillos are solitary animals and spend their time foraging alone for grubs, insects and small invertebrates. They dig small holes and root around in the forest leaf litter and porous soils for food. They have an unusually low body temperature and are susceptible to the leprosy bacterium. Humans can acquire a leprosy infection by handling them or consuming armadillo meat.

They are not regulated game animals in South Carolina, and there is no closed season on private land statewide, during daylight hours. They may be taken at night on registered properties, on which a person has the right to hunt. They can not be hunted at night on WMA lands. Consult SCDNR regulations for more detailed information.

I really don't know what their impact might be on our landscape. I would suppose that they compete with other native species for food and habitat. They have been established in the Lowcountry for many years now, but I'm unaware of any serious problems with them there. I'm sure we'll learn more about them in the years to come.

Reach Dan Geddings at cdgeddings@gmail.com.