When Nancy Moncrief began her job as curator of mammalogy for the Virginia Museum of Natural History in Martinsville in 1989, she figured the number of species on her watch wouldn’t change over the course of her career. And for two decades, her assumption seemed correct.
That all changed in May 2019, when she received an email from Mike Fies, a wildlife biologist at the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources.
Moncrief, who studied at Louisiana State University, knew all about nine-banded armadillos, which are native to Central and South America, as well as parts of the U.S., including Texas. Her exact reply to Fies: “What the [expletive] are they doing in Russell County??”
There isn’t a clear answer. But what is certain is that the mammals, which each weigh about 12 pounds, have been moving steadily northeast over the past century, crossing the Rio Grande River in the 1850s and the Mississippi River during the Great Depression. In the 1990s, they arrived in Tennessee, then North Carolina, and now Virginia.
“It was a complete surprise,” says Moncrief, who published her findings on Virginia’s first confirmed armadillo in 2021 in the journal Southeastern Naturalist. “It’s just this wave of northward expansion.”
As of May 2022, Moncrief has collected several additional reports of armadillos in Virginia, although she can’t say for sure how numerous or widespread the species—most closely related to sloths and anteaters—are in the state. Officials in the neighboring states of Maryland and West Virginia haven’t reported sightings.
Yet several studies suggest that armadillos, which prefer hot weather, could one day thrive as far north as New Jersey and Pennsylvania, aided in part by warmer winters. Temperatures in the northeastern U.S. rose by two degrees Fahrenheit between 1895 and 2011, and could increase by up to 10 degrees Fahrenheit by 2080.
“People have always made these predictions that they’re not going to move past this point, and they’ve always just kept going,” says Colleen McDonough, an ecologist and armadillo expert at Georgia’s Valdosta State University.
“With warmer temperatures being found further north, armadillos could potentially be found in areas that were totally unexpected 20 years ago.”
Copyright and credit to National Geographic. original link; armadillo found in Virginia