Officials recently confirmed a new species of mammal in a forest near Louisville, Kentucky. The announcement comes after years of reports of sightings. The nine-banded armadillo, a native of South and Central America, is indeed in Bernheim Forest. The report comes from the staff who found one dead on a roadside. Let’s learn how this strange little creature made its way so far from home, plus how it may be thriving!
A Unique (and Strange) Creature Was Found in Kentucky
The armadillo is the 51st mammal and the newest species recorded in the 16,000-acre Bernheim Forest. Established in 1929 by Isaac Wolfe Bernheim, the area is a nature preserve home to thousands of species. Bernheim Forest operates as an arboretum and research forest, which is partially why there’s been so much coverage of this strange little occurrence – scientists are excited and studying it!
Reports of armadillos living in the forest had occurred for years, but until now, we lacked official confirmation. With a real specimen in, all of the sightings are confirmed.
While the presence of the armadillo isn’t a myth, the reason and method of how they got there certainly still is. Researchers are still working to determine how it happened and what the potential impacts of it across the wider ecosystem will be.
The Sneaky Little Armadillo Now Living in Kentucky
Nine-banded armadillos (Dasypus novemcinctus) are medium-sized mammals. The creatures are well-known for the bony plates covering their heads, body, and tail. This particular species can grow up to 2.5 feet long and weigh up to 17 pounds, which is pretty large as far as the wider armadillo family goes.
They are mostly nocturnal and feed on insects, worms, grubs, and sometimes other small animals (although this is rare). To find food, they will dig with their long claws and uproot things in search of grubs and insects. This could cause problems later, as we will talk about. Strangely, the armadillo always gives birth to four identical quadruplets of the same sex, all of which are clones of one another.
Besides the nine-banded armadillo, no other species of armadillo is recorded in the U.S. with regularity. The other armadillo species are the northern naked-tailed armadillo, the southern long-nosed armadillo, and the giant armadillo. These armadillos don’t have regular ranges that extend into the United States (at least not yet).
How Did the Armadillo Make It to Kentucky?
The armadillo is not native to Kentucky or the United States. It was first introduced to Texas from Mexico in the 1800s and has since rapidly expanded its range northward and eastward. Overall, they are extremely adaptable, but they prefer places that are warm and have humid areas with soft soil.
The armadillo may have reached Bernheim Forest by natural migration or by human intervention. As for natural migration, armadillos have been expanding north, and neighboring states such as Tennessee or Indiana have already reported some individuals. Additionally, humans could have released them after taking them in as pets, which is one of the most common ways that invasive species make it into new environments.
Will the Armadillo Remain in the Bernheim Forest?
As it stands, officials do not consider the armadillo a threat to the ecosystem or human health in Bernheim Forest. That said, the habits of armadillos could potentially impact the overall ecosystem of the forest. As stated by researchers on Bernheim.org:
“Though there is some uncertainty about how armadillos will impact Bernheim habitats, one thing is certain – they are unique and charismatic animals. Named after the scutes (a dermal bony plate) on their outer shell, the nine-banded armadillo is unlike any other mammal that can be seen within the forest.”Bernheim.org
The future of the armadillo in Kentucky is a little up in the air. It appears the small population residing there is somewhat stable. Even more, some reports show that the burrows that the armadillos dig create valuable homes for creatures like bobcats, coyotes, rabbits, and reptiles. As a result, their actions would end up benefitting the overall ecosystem. The staff said that they will continue to monitor the armadillo population and its impact on the forest. Still, for now, it’s a long journey ahead for the little fellas!
The photo featured at the top of this post is © Sari Oneal/Shutterstock.com
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