Shark and jellyfish sightings in the Charleston area are one thing. Now some beachgoers on Edisto Island can add a more peculiar critter to the list of animals they've spotted swimming in the ocean: an armadillo.
The armor-plated animal was dog-paddling in knee-deep water during low tide when paleontologist Ashby Gale spotted it Sunday afternoon.
He and the participants of his fossil hunting tour at first looked on in disbelief. The tide had apparently swept the armadillo from the edge of a marsh into Jeremy Inlet near Edisto Beach State Park.
"It wasn't until we got a little closer that we could tell it was an armadillo," said Gale, owner of Charleston Fossil Adventures.
Gale recorded a video that showed the armadillo crossing the water to reach land while people waded and played in the waves nearby. Another onlooker later walked behind the armadillo to encourage it to move up the beach toward the forest line, Gale said.
Benjamin Powell, an area natural resources agent with the Clemson Cooperative Extension, said the armadillo was likely out of its element in the inlet.
"They would not survive long in saltwater," he said.
But Powell said armadillos are "excellent" surface swimmers. Their armor is leathery — not scaly like a reptile's — and they're buoyant.
The nine-banded armadillo isn't native to South Carolina. The creature began a slow march into the state in the 1980s, with the first sightings recorded in the Lowcountry. The mammals have since made their way up the coast and inland.
Now the armadillo is mainly considered a nuisance animal for its persistent burrowing that tears up yards and gardens.
Powell said South Carolina's barrier islands are "loaded" with armadillos that are frequently on the move. They're largely nocturnal, and Powell said the armadillo spotted on the beach during the daytime hours could have been disoriented or sick.
Armadillos carry the bacteria that causes leprosy — an infection that can lead to skin sores and nerve damage — but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says it's unlikely that people who come in contact with the animal will catch the disease.
Still, Powell said he advises people who come across an armadillo to leave the animal alone and "let nature take its course."