When homeowners in Illinois see a freshly dug hole in their lawn, few suspect it’s an armadillo. But in recent decades, these small, armored animals have established populations as far north as southern Illinois and Indiana.
These areas were once thought to be too chilly. Armadillos are hairless, so they’re vulnerable to low temperatures. When it’s cold, they also struggle to find food because the worms and bugs they eat burrow deep underground.
But Agustín Jiménez of Southern Illinois University says armadillos have proven that they can survive some frigid days.
“They can actually go and form a den. In that area, they could be isolated from the fluctuations that occur in the exterior,” he says.
Researchers now believe that armadillos can thrive as long as average minimum temperatures stay above about 17 degrees Fahrenheit.
And as the climate warms, those conditions — and ample food — are increasingly found farther north.
Jimenez says that when winters are warmer, worms and grubs stay closer to the surface of the ground, where it’s easier for armadillos to find them.
“The warmer the weather, the more food there will be for them,” he says.
So gardeners, beware. These voracious diggers could be headed your way.
Reporting credit: Sarah Kennedy / ChavoBart Digital Media