Nine-banded armadillos: Not just roadkill anymore

silverstreet 8 8 2016 007

Armadillos are like possums in that they are more often seen dead along the side of the road than alive.

In fact, given the abundance of deceased armadillos and possums that are evident throughout much of the year two thoughts come to mind: a) how exactly do the two species remain vibrant?; and b) just how many of each exist in the wild that they can withstand such wilting assaults from vehicles?

While possums have been a regular feature in my neck of the woods for, likely, tens of thousands of years, armadillos are relative newcomers, having only migrated into South Carolina about 25 years ago.

I’d seen the remains of a number of armadillos that had gone mano a mano with cars and lost, but Monday I experienced my first live sighting in the Palmetto State. Driving through the small town of Silverstreet (population 216, not counting interloping armadillos), I spotted Dasypus novemcinctus, or the nine-banded, long-nosed armadillo, in the middle of a yard, rooting around.

The yard was a large, one-acre lot without fencing, so I pulled over, grabbed my camera and walked the 50 yards or so toward the insectivore. It ignored me until I got within perhaps 10 feet of it, then it trundled ahead, keeping a small distance between us.

Each time I moved slowly toward it, it kept ahead of me, but didn’t pay me a lot of attention.

Photo of armadillo taken by someone who actually knows how to operate a camera.

Photo of armadillo taken by someone who actually knows how to operate a camera.

The nine-banded armadillo has been described as a cross between a turtle and piglet, a depiction both entertaining and accurate. Apparently, the creature got its name from Spanish conquistadors, with “armadillo” meaning “little man in armor” in Spanish.

The armadillo’s shell isn’t solid like that of a turtle, but made up of a series of scutes, or bony plates, which overlap and telescope, giving the creature flexibility.

Their expansion into large swathes of the US hasn’t exactly been well received. Not only do they damage lawns, gardens and structures with their digging, but can cause havoc in the poultry and egg-producing industries. In addition, they also eat the eggs of ground-nesting creatures such as rice birds and gopher tortoises.

One of the interesting aspects of armadillos is that they give birth to identical quadruplets, which are usually born in the spring.

Looking at the mammal as it poked around, I was struck by the length and width of its tail and the diminutive size of its head. It was as though someone had stuck a camper shell on a bicycle.

Though this particular armadillo may not have been the most aesthetically pleasing, it was certainly fleet of foot. Once I moved in for a closeup, it skedaddled toward what it thought was a burrow. However, said burrow turned out to be only about 12 inches deep.

It turned around and paused for about 30 seconds, enabling me to snap a few pictures, than made for, in this case, low ground, galloping at pretty good clip across well-manicured grass before disappearing into a culvert.

Given the relatively few number of cars in the area this particular armadillo inhabits, it’s likely it will survive and mate, which will mean more “little men in armor” as time progresses.

(Top: Armadillo trying to hide from nosey blogger in Silverstreet, SC.)


10 thoughts on “Nine-banded armadillos: Not just roadkill anymore

  1. I can remember trying to catch some when I was kid living in Louisiana. They were plenty fast – which, in retrospect, was probably a good thing. They have long claws and I’m sure they can be plenty bitey when disturbed by annoying young boys.

  2. The charm of an armadillo bypasses me. Although I understand that the chance of contracting leprosy from armadillos is not likely, they still creep me out. The lawn damage and predation on ground nesting birds’ eggs (such as quail) is just another off-putting aspect. So far, we don’t have them in Western N.C. but if the weather stays in this warming cycle it might be just a matter of time until we do. I know that possums can spread disease but I sort of give them a pass – unless they frequent my pastures and then drastic measures must be taken. I do love my horses and maybe over-react if I perceive a threat to their health and well being and possums frequenting pastures is not good for horses because of disease. I’m telling you, liking horses is a weakness and an affliction.

    • My girls love horses, so I know where you’re coming from. Armadillos are certainly odd little beasts, I’ll give you that. And, yes, anything that can pass along leprosy, no matter how remote the chances, is a weird creature.

  3. When I lived in Charleston (S.C., of course) the first time, back in the 1970’s, I was fascinated to learn that yellow fever, malaria, etc. were endemic in earlier times. I think it was said that leprosy was endemic although uncommon but I might be mis-remembering. And then… summer came and the near fatal heat informed me that clearly I was living in the tropics and therefore endemic tropical disease was to be expected. I loved Charleston but hated the summers! (I did my riding and beach trips in the fall and winter.)

    • Yes, spend anytime down there without air conditioning and you quickly understand why the wealthy headed to the mountains each summer. Not only can the heat be extremely uncomfortable, but it was deadly up until about 100 years ago.

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