EVANSVILLE, Ind. -- Wildlife experts who once scoffed at reports that armadillos had added Indiana to their range say periodic sightings of the armored mammals common in the South are continuing in the state as some of the critters apparently roam ever-farther northward.
Indiana Department of Natural Resources wildlife biologist Jeff Thompson said he was skeptical when he heard the first report about a nine-banded armadillo in Indiana years ago.
"Your first thought is, 'Yeah, right,"' he told the Evansville Courier & Press.
But Thompson has picked up several dead roadside armadillos over the years.
Most of Indiana's armadillo sightings have similarly been in the form of roadkill, but Purdue University wildlife specialist Brian MacGrowan said the most recent Indiana armadillo sighting was last October in Parke County north of Terre Haute.
MacGowan said he doesn't believe the handful of Indiana sightings is enough to constitute a full-fledged range expansion. He said one obstacle may be Indiana's cold winters. Armadillos don't hibernate, and freezing weather makes it more difficult for them to dig burrows and find insects to eat.
"Distribution boundaries for species can change over time. It's hard to say," MacGowan said.
Indiana's first confirmed armadillo report was in 2003 on Interstate 64 just east of the Illinois line in Gibson County, but McGowan said they've also been spotted in Daviess, Dubois, Perry, Pike and Vanderburgh counties.
DNR wildlife biologist Scott Johnson, who specializes in nongame mammals, said he's also skeptical that an armadillo invasion is underway.
"If we had them, we would be seeing a lot more of them as roadkill. They would be very visible if they were around in any numbers," Johnson said.
Armadillos have made steady and slow progress up from Central America to Mexico, Texas and the southeastern United States since the late 1800s.
Although bodies of water such as the Ohio River might seem like natural obstacles for such unwieldy looking creatures, the cat-sized mammals are known to cross narrow water bodies by walking on the bottom and to swim wider bodies of water by inflating their stomachs for extra buoyancy.
"Everything can swim," said Indiana Conservation Officer Mike Kellner.