Saturday, May 16, 2009

Armadillo Alert

There's a tool shed in my backyard about the size and shape of a typical outhouse. We no longer have use for the outhouse around here, typical or otherwise, since we discovered the miracle of indoor plumbing.

Under the tool shed lives an armadillo. His name is Armando.

The word ‘armadillo’ comes from the Latin word ‘arma’ meaning wearing armor, and the Latin word ‘dillo’ meaning a very weird thing. In other words, an armadillo very weird thing wearing armor, much like my ex-wife if she were wearing armor. It's basically a small animal, about the size of a pregnant sewer rat, that looks like a miniature brontosaurus afflicted with the shingles.

Armando and I have much in common. We both come out late at night. I like to gaze at the stars and Armando likes to waddle around the premises, scratching the ground in search of edible tidbits.

My dog, Buddy Lee, considers Armando to be an intruder. Armando considers Buddy Lee to be 22 pounds of buffoonery with four legs.

Buddy Lee circles Armando, huffing and puffing and pretending to be formidable. Armando ignores such nonsense, knowing he's impervious to an attack because he has the ability to instantaneously curl up into a facsimile of a bowling ball.

Many armadillos occupy my property, about eight 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.

Not only are armadillos hanging out with me, but they also seem to dominate the surrounding region. 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 11 armadillos, 7 possums, 4 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 ones 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 Kansas or Missouri, and all road-kill in Oklahoma is legal tender.

Buddy Lee discovered the wonderful world of the skunk one night not long ago. It has given him a greater appreciation of random critters roaming about.

Quote for the Day – "Lots of people talk to animals. Unfortunately, most people don't listen to them." Bret

Bret Burquest is an award-winning columnist and author of four novels. He lives in the Ozark Mountains with a dog named Buddy Lee and an armadillo named Armando. His blogs appear on several websites, including

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