Ah, Georgia! Land of graceful hanging moss, those famous peaches, gators on the golf course, and…armadillos?
Many a visitor to the Golden Isles has been taken aback by the appearance of an armadillo on their B&B lawn, or trundling along a roadway (at least the lucky ones are still trundling.) While armadillos are generally associated with Texas and the Southwest, the fact is they’ve made an impressively successful foray across most of the South, and as far north as Missouri and Kansas.
How did this ancient, and let’s face it, funny-looking critter that originated in South America make it to the Georgia coast?
Until around 1850,
armadillos were found exclusively south of the Rio Grande, where native South American peoples raised them for food. It may be that the first Armadillos to cross the river in any significant numbers were those brought across by people as a food source. The subsequent development of the Southwest for range and agriculture actually gave the armadillo population a leg up, as it decreased natural predators, including native hunters, and made the land more conducive to armadillo habitat.
In just 150 years,
they’ve spread north and east so quickly that scientists are still a little unsure as to the secret of their success. Some believe that they hitched rides east on cattle cars. Florida’s armadillo population actually started with some captive animals that escaped from a circus (though what kind of circus act these mellow little relatives of the sloth could pull off, it’s hard to say.) Whether Georgia’s population came from the circus tribe, or from the cow-punching group to the West, or some combination of the two, the first recorded armadillos in the Golden Isles showed up around the mid-1970s, according to the National Park Service.