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.
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.)