Summer brings new faces and new neighbors to the island, if only for the season, but one recent arrival is here to stay - the armadillo. The "little armored one", once confined to Texas and Florida, has been moving north and east as climate change brings warmer weather year-long to the Southeast. First seen north of the Savannah River in the 1980's, armadillos are now present in all 46 South Carolina counties.
The nine-banded armadillo (Dasypus novemcinctus) is our Southeast variety (there's a three-banded species in parts of South America), distinctly odd-looking with its pig-like snout, nine moveable rings between its shoulder and hip, and 12 rings encasing its tapered tail. Distantly related to anteaters and three-toed sloths, it feeds on insects, scorpions and other invertebrates that it digs up with its powerful claws - and therein lies the trouble in its interactions with humans, who object to the holes and scrapes marring carefully tended lawns. Armadillos are champion burrowers, too, able to dig under building foundations, concrete slabs, driveways, even swimming pools. Livestock owners particularly object to them, for armadillo holes are the perfect size for cattle and horse hooves, with the possibility of broken legs.
Armadillos began appearing on Seabrook Island within the last ten years, and have been sighted all over the island, from near beaches and boardwalks to marshy areas further inland from the shore. (Check out SIPOA's wildlife sighting map to see where they've been spotted.) Preferring the protection of dense undergrowth and shrubbery, they're rarely observed during daylight hours, preferring to forage from early evening and throughout the night while spending the daylight hours in burrows, especially during the heat of the summer. Local predators include bobcats and foxes.
Armadillos are famous for the ability to roll up into a tight, armored ball when threatened. Lesser known is that the female's litter produced once a year always consists of precisely four pups, all of whom are identical quadruplets. Scientists remain unsure of the reasons for this evolutionary quirk.
Less salutary is the fact that armadillos can be carriers of parasites that cause human diseases like leprosy and Chagas disease, and so should never be touched with bare hands. But they pose no direct threat to humans; and however annoying turf disruptions may be, they help aerate the soil and control insect populations.