Here's where armadillos have been sighted in Virginia. Map by Robert Lunsford.

We have a new governor coming to Richmond and a new football coach coming to Virginia Tech but let’s skip over that and deal with the really big news: We have another armadillo sighting. 

And this one’s in Roanoke. 

For those new to the slow waddle of armadillos northward, here’s a quick refresher: They’re slowly waddling northward. They’ve actually been slowly waddling northward for centuries. We just think of them as a Texas species because that’s where Americans first encountered them in 1849. By the 1950s, they’d made it across the Mississippi River and started spreading across the South. By 1994, they were in South Carolina. By 2014, they were into Kentucky and all of Tennessee east of Nashville. 

And now they’re here. Well, sort of, kind of. 

There have been sporadic sightings in Southwest Virginia, either “wayward males” – the males do tend to travel more – that wandered out of Kentucky or Tennessee, or maybe critters that hitchhiked a ride on a train or truck. They’re like that. 

But now we have a sighting in Roanoke. Actually, this sighting was in August, but we’re just now hearing about it. Chronologically speaking, that doesn’t make this the most recent sighting – Allen Meade of St. Paul in Wise County captured a photo of one on his trailcam in late September. But the Roanoke armadillo does represent the northernmost sighting in Virginia. 

Charlotte Aday, a retired professional counselor, says she spotted the ‘dillo off her back patio one night the week of August 23. She emails us: “It was after midnight and I was sitting in the dark, trying to practice my meditation. Something moving made the light come on and I looked to see an armadillo creeping out of my daylily plants. He wandered around briefly then went back into the foliage. And yes, I know what they look like; I’m from Louisiana.” 

Charlotte Aday

For those familiar with Roanoke, she lives just off Grandin Road, near busy Virginia 419, a detail that matters here for lots of reasons.

Armadillos, you see, often wind up smooshed. One of their many nicknames is Texas speed bump. Or road pizza. Or possums on the halfshell. They have lots of nicknames. Whatever you call them (the Spanish liked “little armored one”) they like to hang around the sides of roadways digging for grubs. Bad for the grubs and often bad for the armadillos. Their defense mechanism is to jump straight up – not good if they’ve wandered out onto the asphalt and are trying to scare off an oncoming car. (Not good for your grill work, either). But much like the dog that didn’t bark in the Sherlock Holmes story, this Roanoke rooter hasn’t turned up as roadkill, even with 419 and all the city streets nearby. Neither Roanoke nor Roanoke County have reported any carcasses. That means the odds are good that this particular armadillo might still be out there, snuffling around. Or maybe it’s expired from natural causes in some ditch. (Armadillo fans prefer the former scenario). 

The state’s official armadillo watchers – Nancy Moncrief from the Virginia Museum of Natural History in Martinsville, and Seth Thompson and Michael Fries of the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources – aren’t surprised by this sighting, although they were excited to hear about it. Armadillos are clearly on the march, er, waddle. Maybe this one walked here on purpose. Or maybe it caught a ride on a train and was thoroughly surprised to wind up in Roanoke. However this specimen made its way to Roanoke, we do have what seems a steady infiltration further southwest. It’s only a matter of time before the females catch up with the males and a breeding colony gets established in Virginia. Climatologically speaking, armadillos can probably survive as far north as Pennsylvania, scientists say. They’re not really a desert species; we just think of them that way because that’s where we first saw them. They actually like places with moisture because that makes for better grubbing – Aday’s daylily patch is a classic armadillo hangout. Their full range now extends from Argentina to Appalachia. “Armadillos are a common sight in Louisiana,” Aday says. “They are such unique, interesting animals. It was quite a surprise to see one in my backyard here in Roanoke.” Yes, yes indeed. But the time will come when an armadillo in the backyard isn’t so surprising.

Have you seen an armadillo in Virginia? Let us know at dwayne@cardinalnews.org or contact the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources or the Virginia Museum of Natural History in Martinsville.

Dwayne Yancey

Yancey is editor of Cardinal News. His opinions are his own. You can reach him at dwayne@cardinalnews.org.