Armadillos have been slowly expanding their territory further north in Illinois over the last couple decades, and they have now reached the greater Highland area.
One of the creatures, which are cousins to sloths and anteaters, was hit along Mettler Road near New Douglas on July 15.
“They continue to move northward in the state,” said Bob Bluett, head of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources’ (IDNR) furbearer division. “This summer, I’ve had reliable reports — many with photos — from Hancock, Macoupin, Montgomery, Cass and Sangamon counties.”
A siting was recorded for Madison County in 2013, Bluett said.
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Armadillos are the size of a large cat, but their body shape resembles that of an opossum.
Armadillo is Spanish for “little armored one.” They have a carapace of bony plates covered with leathery skin that may be mottled brown to yellowish-white in color. They are the only living mammal to have such armor.
According to a 2008 report, the most recent, from the Illinois Natural History Survey, from 1990 through March 2008, at least 166 armadillos were documented or reported from 42 Illinois counties. Eighty-eight percent of armadillo locations that could be mapped were south of a line through central Calhoun and southern Greene counties. Ninety-one percent of the sightings occurred after 2000.
Some live animals were observed, but most reports were of apparent road kills, according to the report.
Armadillos propensity for getting hit on the road, due to poor eyesight and slow movement, has earned them the nickname “Hillbilly Speed Bump.”
According to the University of Illinois Extension, armadillos can only survive in areas with a constant source of water that have annual temperatures above 28 degrees Fahrenheit. This is because they depend heavily on insects as a food source, have very little hair and fat stores, do not hibernate and have a low metabolic rate. Armadillos cannot survive when the ground is frozen for more than a few days.
Bluett said that armadillos like to dig, but do not pose any risks to native wildlife.
“Their burrows provide cover for species like cottontail rabbits,” he said. “Insects and worms are a major part of the armadillo’s diet. They do a lot of digging to find beetle larvae, termites, ants, crickets, etc., which can cause turf damage near homes.”
Armadillos are capable of carrying leprosy, but infection rates are generally low, Bluett said.
Armadillos also have a unique reproductive characteristic.
“Typically, (they) give birth to four young, which are genetically identical,” Bluett said.
That trait has led them to being used in genetic research.
If you believe you have seen an armadillo, the IDNR asks that you report the sighting.
Average Length: 24 to 33 inches, including the tail. The tail is almost as long as the body.
Average Weight: 8 to 17 pounds.
Other Characteristics: Armadillos have a carapace of bony plates covered with leathery skin that may be mottled brown to yellowish-white in color. They have very little hair. The head is long and slender, with ears that are approximately 40 percent the length of the head. Armadillos have relatively short legs. There are four toes on the front feet and five toes on the hind feet, all with well-developed claws for digging.
Source: University of Illinois Extension