Armadillo

Armadillo

Text and photos by Cary Salter

 
TGO Nature Center, Nature, The Great Outdoors, Titusville, Florida, Education, Mammal, Armadillo

 

Tha-bump Tha-bump!  “What was that” she queried?

He chortled. “That, my dear, was a Texas speed bump; also known as a hillbilly speed bump,  possum on a half-shell, Florida pork. Or, my personal favorite, a Hoover hog!” (named for President Herbert Hoover, who many believe caused the Great Depression and the inability of many Americans to put any other type of meat on the dinner table).

Closely related to anteaters and sloths, nine-banded armadillos are still a main course in some nations.  One of 20 species in 10 genera our “little armored ones” (the literal meaning of the Spanish) are the only ones to have migrated into the United States, according to National Geographic.  The other 19 species vary in size and color and are found throughout Latin America. The smallest is the pink fairy armadillo, six inches and salmon colored weighing just over 3 ounces. The largest is the five-foot, brown giant armadillo weighing more than 110 pounds.

National Geographic says that most armadillos dig for food and to burrow, sleeping up to 16 hours each day. (The size of the holes in the lawn tells whether it was feral hog or armadillo.)  Only populations of the nine-banded armadillo are expanding.  Most other armadillo species are in decline primarily due to habitat loss.

With poor eyesight, they use a keen sense of smell to track down more than 500 food items, mostly insects and invertebrates such as beetles, cockroaches, wasps, yellow jackets, spiders, scorpions, and ants.  (Yes, fire ants are on their menu. Go armadillo!)   They also snack on some plants and fruits.

They prefer warm wet climates.  Without fat reserves, they don’t tolerate cold weather well. Prolonged low temperatures can decimate populations.  Despite that, the nine-banded armadillo now ranges as far north as Kansas, and throughout Florida and the southeast.

“AnswersAfrica” calls them living dinosaurs which resemble giant woodlice; their keen sense of smell detects food up to nine inches underground. Holding their breath up to six minutes, with their heavy armor they can walk across the bottom of bodies of water.  When startled they jump up to three feet high.  This causes many road deaths when they collide with automobile undercarriages, not tires, and gravely threatens motorcyclists (no pun intended).

The National Wildlife Federation says nine-banded armadillos cannot roll into a ball.  Only the three banded armadillo can retract its tail and hind legs curling into a hard ball as a defense against predation.

A normal birth yields four “identical quadruplets” which will live between seven and 20 years (if not served for dinner).  Although gestation is 60 to 120 days, nine-banded armadillos give birth typically eight months after mating due to a process known as “delayed implantation” wherein the fertilized egg lies dormant four months. When it begins development, it typically splits into four identical embryos.

At birth, kits, as the newborns are called, don’t have armor, rather pink leathery skin which takes several weeks to ossify into bony armor.  They reach maturity in three to 12 months.

Texas adopted the nine-banded armadillo as its state small mammal in 1995, despite the fact they can carry leprosy.  Actually, armadillos never had leprosy until Europeans brought the disease to the new world.  They caught it from people.  According to the New York Times armadillos cause nearly one-third of the new cases of leprosy each year in the U.S.  So they shouldn’t be handled or served as an entrée.

 

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TGO Nature Center – “Living in Harmony with Nature

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