ORIGINALLY WRITTEN ALEEN RATZLAFF
Last week, Steve Hanneman of Peabody was on his way to check his milo field when he came across some unusual roadkill along Indigo Road, just north of the correction curve.
Hanneman said he decided to notify Reno Penner, who lives nearby, about the dead animal. Penner drove to the curve and thinking wildlife experts might be interested in the find, loaded the critter into the back of his pickup and took it home.
For Hanneman, Penner and most Marion County residents, the sighting of a nine-banded armadillo, even a dead one, is a rarity.
“Several years ago, I believe one was killed near Goessel on K-15,” said Richard Wall, professor of biology at Tabor College.
But it is unusual to find armadillos this far north, he said, adding if they’re here, one would sooner see them in July or August.
“In June, it’s extremely early (to find armadillos in Kansas),” Wall said.
Wall became familiar with armadillos while completing graduate studies at the Oklahoma State University in Stillwater.
Nine-banded armadillos are the most common type in the United States. Described by one source as a “cat-sized, armored, insect-eating mammal,” their armor does not protect them from being victims of automobiles.
When frightened or startled, armadillos jump straight up.
Consequently, the animals have nearly a 100 percent mortality when crossing roads, Wall said. Even if they are not hit by the tire of a vehicle, they may be hit by its grill or underside.
Armadillos are mammals native to South America. They were first found in the United States in the mid-1800s near the Rio Grande River valley in Texas. In 1995, the armadillo became Texas’ state mammal.
Over the years, armadillos have spread to southeastern states and further north, including parts of Oklahoma, Missouri and Kansas.
According to a University of Kansas Web site, while nine-banded armadillos are rare everywhere in Kansas, they occupy the southern part of the state and are apparently moving their range northward.
In Kansas, armadillos are commonly found among trees, where the animal searches for food in the leaves and debris.
“They’re always foraging,” Wall said, adding the armored creatures are usually found around wooded areas where the dirt is looser because the animals burrow in the ground.
The cold weather, however, prevents them from traveling too far north.
“Armadillos do not hibernate,” Wall said. “They have to feed on grubs and insects all year.
“Over the winter, they can’t find food, so the freezing temperatures limit their range.”
As far as the rarity of finding armadillos in Marion County in spring, it depends on how the animal got here, said Marvin Peterson, conservation officer with the Kansas Wildlife and Parks.
Armadillos are more common in near the Oklahoma border. Peterson said the animals are transient, and they often make their way to this area hitchhiking on trucks or other modes of transportation.
“Since I’ve been here the past 17 years, I’ve seen about 12 armadillos-most of them dead,” he said.