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LBL Wildlife Report: Armadillos, Our (Fairly New) Armored Neighbors

James Hawkins,

In the next installment of the LBL Wildlife Report, Tracy Ross and Woodlands Nature Station lead naturalist John Pollpeter discuss our (relatively new) armored neighbors: armadillos.

We usually associate armadillos with warm weather, likely due to their origins in the American Southwest. However, Pollpeter explains that winter is the best time to see armadillos—at least Kentuckian ones.

Armadillos are "not adapted very well for cold temperatures," Pollpeter says. "Being a nocturnal animal, it gets awfully cold at night. So, they have to stay in their dens to stay warm. If they're going to get out and get food—they don't hibernate, they don't have a lot of fur—they're going to do that during the day."

"If you're coming into Land Between the Lakes, and you're driving some of our backroads, you're going to see maybe an armadillo foraging on the side of the road because it has to come out when it's warmest to be able to survive," he continues.

This daytime transition is in response to their new surroundings. Armadillos are native to the American Southwest. In the 1930s, they were introduced to the Florida and Gulf Coast area. Around 25 years ago, Land Between the Lakes naturalists first identified armadillos in the western Kentucky and Tennessee area.

Though winters in this area can get severe, the ground temperature stays around 50 to 54 degrees. Because of this, armadillos can survive significant winter weather by staying underground.

"The problem is, they're an insectivore," Pollpeter says. "They're going to be eating ants and bees and termites. They might eat some fruits, some eggs. You can imagine if you're having a bad winter, they're going to have a harder time finding some of that stuff."

During the summer, armadillos will eat "yellowjackets, bees, wasps, any kind of worms or grubs," Pollpeter says. "People complain about them digging up their gardens or yards, but they're not necessarily going after any vegetables. They're going after beetle grubs—Japanese beetle grubs."

Another common complaint about armadillos is their ability to carry leprosy. But Pollpeter says this trait is mainly exclusive to Floridian armadillos. "You really have to be messing with [armadillos] down in Florida to be able to catch that—eating them, hunting them, that kind of thing."

Luckily, in our modern days compared to biblical days, we have a lot of ways to combat that," Pollpeter continues. "So, it's not a big threat to us. Of all things, it's not something we have to worry about with wildlife."

Armadillos can be seen in all parts of Land Between the Lakes, including on the water. "To get across large bodies of water like Kentucky Lake, they fill their stomach up with air, and they float across. If it's a small stream or river, they'll just walk along the bottom."

Whether on land or water, it's best to observe these unique newcomers to the Land Between the Lakes region from a distance.

For more LBL Wildlife Reports, click here. For more information on Land Between the Lakes or the Woodlands Nature Station, visit its website.

Tracy started working for WKMS in 1994 while attending Murray State University. After receiving his Bachelors and Masters degrees from MSU he was hired as Operations/Web/Sports Director in 2000. Tracy hosted All Things Considered from 2004-2012 and has served as host/producer of several music shows including Cafe Jazz, and Jazz Horizons. In 2001, Tracy revived Beyond The Edge, a legacy alternative music program that had been on hiatus for several years. Tracy was named Program Director in 2011 and created the midday music and conversation program Sounds Good in 2012 which he hosts Monday-Thursday. Tracy lives in Murray with his wife, son and daughter.
Melanie Davis-McAfee graduated from Murray State University in 2018 with a BA in Music Business. She has been working for WKMS as a Music and Operations Assistant since 2017. Melanie hosts the late-night alternative show Alien Lanes, Fridays at 11 pm with co-host Tim Peyton. She also produces Rick Nance's Kitchen Sink and Datebook and writes Sounds Good stories for the web.
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