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Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Boldly Going Nowhere

Thursday, June 13, 2002

Armadillo Alert

The word armadillo comes from the Latin word arma‚ meaning wearing armor, and the Latin word dillo‚ meaning a very weird thing. Basically an armadillo is a small animal, about the size of a duck-billed platypus, that looks like a miniature brontosaurus afflicted with the shingles.

Armadillos have recently been brought to my attention because many scores of them apparently occupy my property, less than ten acres of hilly woods. They seem to delight in digging holes small enough to be hidden from normal peripheral vision yet large enough to twist an adult ankle, about the size of my ankle, if that adult isn't careful where he or she steps.

My dog has also discovered the wonderful world of the armadillo. She chases them in the middle of the night, mostly in wide circles. When she gets close enough, she learns all about how hard it is to penetrate armor and a secondary reason the armadillo possesses such mighty claws used for digging burrows.

Not only are armadillos hanging out with me, but they also seem to dominate the surrounding area. I took an informal, unscientific survey last month of the roadways within five miles of my country estate, keeping a running tally on road kill whenever I ventured out into the real world. Over a period of 30 days, I counted 17 armadillos, five possums, three squirrels, two raccoons and a banana. In terms of road kill, armadillos are either incredibly abundant or possibly suicidal.

Armadillos are closely related to the anteater and come in about 20 varieties. All varieties have an armored shell for defense. The two most common models are the three-banded and nine-banded variety. The three-banded are the only ones capable of curling up into a ball as a defense mechanism.

Because armadillos have a low metabolic rate, with virtually no fat reserves, they can't survive in colder climates. Native to South America, they're found in Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Kansas and Arkansas. In fact, the armadillo is the state mammal of Texas. If I'm not mistaken, the state mammal of Louisiana is the red-necked yahoo.

Much like my ex-wife, the armadillo spends a great deal of its time foraging for food. While my ex-wife dines on French cuisine and hot fudge sundaes, the armadillo prefers insects, grubs and small vertebrates. Armadillos have very few teeth, which contain no enamel, that are similar to peg-like molars. Since they primarily eat insects, they don't have to do a lot of heaving chewing anyway. Like most insect eating mammals, they have a very long, sticky tongue to gather up tiny creatures as quickly as possible.

Armadillos have one of the most unique reproductive features in nature. They always give birth to four identical young, the only mammal known to do so. All four young develop from the same egg and even share the same placenta in the womb. Breeding occurs in July and the embryo remains in a dormant state until November. The four young are born in a burrow in March. All four young are identical quadruplets, always the same sex.

Some female armadillos, mostly ones used in research, have given birth long after they were captured, sometimes up to two years later. These so-called virgin births‚ are a result of the female's ability to delay implantation of the fertilized egg during times of stress.

It's illegal to own an armadillo in the state of Maine. The state of Montana classifies them as livestock. In Oklahoma, all road kill is legal tender.