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Animal Hit by Car Turns Out to be New Species
By Colby Maxwell,
A new species of mammal has been discovered in a forest near Louisville, Kentucky, after years of elusive sightings. The nine-banded armadillo, a native of South and Central America, was confirmed to live in Bernheim Forest by 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 to be recorded in the 16,000-acre Bernheim Forest . The area is a nature preserve home to thousands of species after it was established in 1929 by Isaac Wolfe Bernheim. It 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!
It had been reported for a few years that armadillos had started living in the forest, but until now, it wasn’t officially confirmed. With a real specimen now taken in, all of the sightings can officially be confirmed.
While the presence of the armadillo isn’t a myth, the reason and method to 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
The nine-banded armadillo (Dasypus novemcinctus) is what was officially found in the Bernheim Forest. They are medium-sized mammals that are well-known for the bony plates covering its head, 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, there are no other other species of armadillo that have been recorded in the US with regularity. The other species are the northern naked-tailed armadillo, the southern long-nosed armadillo, and the giant armadillo , although they 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 talking 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, the armadillo is not considered a threat to the ecosystem or human health in Bernheim Forest. That being 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.”
The future of the armadillo in Kentucky is a little up in the air, but it looks like the small population that lives there is somewhat stable. Even more, there have been some reports that show that the burrows that armadillos are digging are creating valuable homes for creatures like bobcat , coyote, rabbit, and reptiles, which 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, but it’s a long journey ahead for the little fellas!