Kathryn Muller photographed this armadillo near Christiansburg on New Year's Day. Courtesy of Kathryn Muller.

Kathryn Muller of Montgomery County had just finished her morning coffee Saturday and was out looking for mushrooms in the woods behind her house – a traditional first day of the new year activity for her – when she found something that definitely wasn’t a mushroom.

It was an armadillo.

The armadillo seemed just as surprised as she was. “It jumped high, and then ran away fast, very low to the ground,” she said in a post on the Virginia Wildlife Facebook page. Armadillos are great jumpers, but running isn’t quite their thing – Muller did manage to get a photo of the creature before it disappeared into the brush.

With that, Muller recorded the first armadillo spotting of the year, and one in a growing number of sightings as armadillos waddle up from the South. Once their range was confined to Texas and parts south. Now they are established as far north as Tennessee and North Carolina, and scientists say they could expand as far north as central Pennsylvania and the coastal parts of New England. In the past few years, there have been sporadic sightings of armadillos in Southwest Virginia — in Buchanan and Russsell counties in 2019, in Washington and Wythe counties in 2020. Last August, a woman in Roanoke saw one in her yard. Last September, a man in Wise County captured a photo of one on his trailcam. And now Muller has photographed this one in Montgomery County. “It felt like a prank from the new year,” she said in an interview, but this was no prank.

She lives near Christiansburg, near some railroad tracks – that’s potentially significant because armadillos are notorious train hobos. “This was not a threatening or aggressive animal,” she posted. “It was a real treat encounter. It was snuffling around in soft soil under some oaks & poplars.” That is what armadillos do; they feast on bugs mostly. And while we think of armadillos as desert creatures, they actually prefer moist dirt – easier to grub around in that. Their global range now extends from Argentina to Appalachia. We only think of them as a desert creature because Americans first came across them in Texas in 1849 as they moved up from the south and Americans moved west.

So far, scientists have only documented “wayward males” in Virginia – no evidence of females or a breeding colony. But they do expect that to happen eventually.

If you see an armadillo in Virginia, scientists advise leaving it alone and letting them know. Contact the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources. You can also let us know, too, at news@cardinalnews.org.

Here’s where armadillos have been sighted in Virginia. We’ll now have to add one in Montgomery County. Map by Robert Lunsford.

Dwayne Yancey

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