DAVID CITY, Neb. | An armadillo found dead Monday on a northwest Butler County road may be a “pioneer” that wandered into Central Nebraska along the Platte River Valley, a University of Nebraska-Lincoln zoology professor said.
The animal apparently was hit by a vehicle on County Road 40, just east of U.S. 81, said Marilyn Schmit, who found the armadillo. The location is about 8 miles south of Columbus.
Professor Patricia Freeman, the head of the zoology laboratory at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, provided an explanation for the animal’s discovery.
"The state of Nebraska is the northernmost range of the nine-banded armadillos (Dasypus novemcinctus or the 'nine-banded hairy-foot'). These strange-looking mammals with their shell of moveable bands of fused horny scales have been expanding their range for the past 2.5 million years," she wrote in an email.
Armadillos don't regulate their body temperature well, so they are usually found only in warmer climates.
The mild winter and extremely warm March may have something to do with this animal's survival, she said.
"The past two summers, first in Texas and now throughout the Midwest, have been hot and dry. These summers were joined by a very mild winter. As a result, it is not surprising to see them," she said.
But that doesn't mean scientists expect to see families of armadillos in Nebraska.
"Museum records have only documented expansion north by male armadillos. We do not yet have records of females, pregnant females or babies," she said. "If we did, then we would know that armadillos are breeding in the state. These males that have wandered into the state, probably along rivers courses, are the "pioneering" members of the populations to the south."
The odds are good that this animal wandered north on foot, but it could have stowed away on a truck or other equipment hauled from the southern plains, she said.
Will we see more?
"If they establish themselves over the winters in Nebraska, they could become permanent members of the mammal community in Nebraska. However, when there is another cold winter, the expansion could easily contract to the south again," she said. "Armadillos now breed in Kansas and Missouri, but they did not earlier in the last century."
The armadillo measured around 18 inches long, larger than others spotted in recent years near Ord, York and Unadilla.
Freeman shared other armadillo facts:
They eat mostly insects but also worms, snails, small amphibians, bird eggs, berries and fruits. They have broad claws and robust limbs for digging. They always have quadruplets.
But in case anyone finds an armadillo and wants to use it for some wild game recipe, it's not a good idea.
"They are known carriers of leprosy," Freeman said.
The disease, known as Hansen's disease, is easily treatable.
After finding the animal on Monday, Schmit found that the tale of its discovery spread around David City pretty fast. She was contacted by a conservation officer with the Game and Parks Commission, but the officer did not want the animal.
Freeman, however, wanted to collect the animal for the UNL collection of specimens at the Nebraska State Museum. She said she would arrange for the animal to be brought to Lincoln, where its skin and skeleton would be kept.