Background Switcher (Hidden)

Our First Armadillo

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Warning: This post contains some roadkill photos. Heck, it's a post about armadillos. If it didn't mention roadkill, it wouldn't be about armadillos now, would it? Let's get that first DOA 'dillo out of the way:

There, that wasn't so bad. This poor fella managed to get himself killed in a beach parking lot. That takes some doing on both killer and killee's parts. Armadillos would be OK if they'd crouch down when a car passes over them, but instead they startle and jump straight up, bonking against the chassis and essentially commiting suicide. Armadillos are capable of leaping 4' straight up into the air, so you can imagine the forces when this power is applied to a speeding automobile.

I have always, always wanted to see an armadillo in the wild. Any armadillo (and there are 20 species worldwide, all but one of them in Latin America). In the southern US, we are blessed (or cursed, depending on who you ask) with a single armadillo species, the nine-banded Dasypus novemcinctus.

It's just so cool to have an edentate in the United States. "Edentate" means "toothless," though the nine-banded armadillo is hardly toothless. Here are the weird blade-like teeth of the hapless roadkill I found and examined in Florida. They stood up like an edge cut with pinking shears, more crenulations than teeth. Gross, I know, but look at the teeth, please.


Seriously: having an edentate in the US is like our having a flamingo, a spoonbill, an antelope, a lion. It's a lone representative of a cool order we might not otherwise have. D. novemcinctus ranges from Argentina to the southern United States, and it seems to have relatively recently colonized the US, having first been seen here in 1849. Armadillos naturally colonized Florida, but became extinct for unknown reasons. Modern Florida nine-banded armadillos are thought to descend from a pair that escaped from a roadside zoo about 50 years ago in Cocoa, as well as at least one earlier release. Knowing they aren't exactly "native," even if they were historically in Florida, seems to give some people license to hate them. Lots of people hate any animal that digs huge holes, so the cards are definitely stacked against the little armored one. Of all the world's species of armadillos, only the nine-banded has managed to thrive and extend its range. Go novemcinctus!

In deference to Floridians who will doubtless give me their $.02, it's easy to love an animal when it's not excavating your back yard.

But get this: The giant armadillo, Dasypus bellus, once ranged as far north as the Ohio River Valley!! No wonder I was so hot to see an armadillo, even if only its smaller cousin.

Armadillo Online is an amazing compendium of cool armadillo information. Like this: The nine-banded armadillo has a unique salivary bladder surrounded by muscle, a tappable reservoir of gluey saliva that it uses to snare ants, termites, and other insects as it eats.

Did you know that armadillos always have four young, and they are all identical, all the same sex and genetically alike? All four come from the same egg, which divides into four embryos. This makes them good lab animals, because where else are you going to get four genetically identical siblings every time? You've got your experimental animals and your control in one litter. However,  though they quickly become tame, they don't do very well in captivity.

They're also sought after and captured because armadillos can catch and carry leprosy, so a great deal of what we know about transmission of this disease comes from armadillo research. People go out with nets and catch 'dillos and sell them to labs. Unfortunately, people who handle a lot of armadillos sometimes get leprosy from them, yuccch. The armadillo has a weak immune system and an extraordinarily low body temperature -92 to 95 degrees, which is thought to make them susceptible to leprosy. Reason enough not to keep a pet armadillo!

Leprosy, a dreadful lesiony lumpy skin disease caused by the bacteria Mycobacterium leprae and M. lepromatosis, is now treatable with a multi-drug regime of rifampicindapsone, and clofazimine given over 12 months. However, the Third World still hosts leper colonies where people suffering from the disease are segregated--over 1,000 colonies exist in India alone. I flew over an island that's given over to people suffering from leprosy in Guyana, in South America. It's still part of the reality for many less affluent countries. That hit me hard, circling over that island just an ocean away from Florida, but decades removed in medical advancement. We are incredibly fortunate in the U.S. I try never to forget that.

Armadillos sleep up to 16 hours a day. Maybe this is why I'd never seen one until this trip to Florida. I've been all over south Texas too, but no go until now. As the kids and I headed to the beach one evening, I saw the trundling shape of my first 'dillo near a busy intersection. I whooped with joy and pulled over to document it.

photo by Phoebe Linnea Thompson

Absolutely beautiful it was, a perfect specimen.

I was impressed by its muley ears and perfect carapace; its birdlike snoot and tiny eyes. It spent 90 per cent of its time with its nose deep in the grass, looking for insects to eat, so I have dozens of photos but only a few where you can see its little eye. This is one of them.

More armadillo exploration anon.


That's a critter I'd love to see to see one day.

I know nothing about armadillo teeth, armadillo spit, or leprosy, and that is why I love to come here. I do know a little about sleeping 16 hours a day.

What Murr said.

I have a confession to make. Something I've kept secret for, oh, close to 30 years---this lover of all animals has an...armadillo purse.

Yes, a really armadillo was sacrificed, I don't know how many years ago, to make this football shaped purse complete with head and little feets. My mother volunteered at a used clothing shop that helps fund a food bank for the needy. They would take in garbage bags of clothes, sort through them and put the decent ones up for sale. In the bottom of a black garbage bag that a little old lady brought in was the purse. My mother of course knowing my love for all animals just knew I'd LOVE it.

I will send you a photo on facebook if you want. Whew, I feel better all ready.

I saw one in Lousiana in the Tensas National Wildlife Refuge. When it heard our truck, it bolted, and I was surprised at how fast it can move.

The last time we were in Guyana, we saw an eleven-banded armadillo hole on a hike. Our guide told us it has a symbiotic relationship with the fer-de-lance, whereby the snake guards the armadillos hole (and lives there too), and the snake uses armadillo poop to manufacture its poison. I'm not sure whether that's true; a quick Interwebnets search indicates armadillos might eat fer-de-lances.

I grew up in St. Louis, MO, and now live in the Houston, TX area. A few years back, my mom was visiting us from St. Louis. She had always wanted to see an armadillo.
So, one night, while standing outside of our old apartment taking her smoke break, my mom spotted an armadillo walking around the apartment complex parking lot. She proceeded to chase after it in her nightgown.
It ran away, of course. Quite funny, and it made her vacation!
Deb G.

Posted by Anonymous March 10, 2011 at 11:03 AM

I met my first armadillo as roadkill on an Arkansas road when my parents were moving us from Missouri to south Louisiana.

Soon I was regularly meeting live armadillo's. My little terrier, Pal, and I cooperated to catch them. He would run one into a hollow or a place where it had been digging for insects, and then I would hang on to its tail while he dug it out. Then I would take it home upside down and keep in in a big tub a few hours before releasing it.

I can still sneak up on them and sometimes even catch them. They can hardly see, so if you are quiet, and move slowly, you can get very close.

Many years ago, got to talk to a cancer research guy from Carville, Louisiana the last leprosarium, in the US Then had a fenced place where they had dug out a pit 10 feet deep and then lined it with chain-link fencing before filling it back in so the armadillos would have a natural place to breed.

The thought of you guys pulling over to photo an armadillo just tickles me to death and validates my family pulling off excitedly to play in the dirty snow piled high by a plow.

"LOOK, LOOK! IT'S SNOW!! PULL OVER , PULL OVER!!!!", as spoken by a Floridian ...

...translates into...

"LOOK, LOOK! IT'S AN ARMADILLO!! PULL OVER, PULL OVER!!!!", as said by an Ohioid.

Pretty cute, FloridaCracker, but come on now. You, of all people, have to admit that frozen water is maybe just a wee bit more pedestrian than the only freakin' edentate on the North American continent. I mean, we're a bit short of anteaters up here; the tamanduas are vacationing in Costa Rica. It's an armadillo, man! It's covered with armor! It has muley ears and long yellow hair on its belly! It has a long linguini tongue and weird wedgy claws and pinking shear teeth and I don't care how *used* you are to that, it is COOLER THAN SNOW of which we are to get another SIX INCHES TONIGHT and perhaps that is why I am a bit EDGY. Because it is going to SNOW on top of a FLOOD. And you have armadillos and you get to whizz right by them in the sunshine, and we do NOT. We do not have armadillos, or sunshine, or T-shirt weather, but hey, we are getting more SNOW tonight so come on up and bring the kids. Whee. We will do a timeshare and take over Pure Florida HQ and you can shovel snow up here. I can learn Bubbaponics. Deal?

Christine, thank you for airing your confession here. I happen to possess an alligator purse that belonged to my grandmother Ruigh, but it was too "good" to use, so it sat in a drawer for oh sixty years. And now it is mine. And man, is it fugly.

Erica, I have heard many such stories from woodland sages the world over. Somebody please tell me how armadillo poop is used in venom manufacture by fer de lances, and I'll be satisfied.

Deb, are you my daughter?

Marilyn, have you heard about contracting leprosy from 'dilloes? Just askin'...I don't think I'd handle one willingly. Well, if it needed help I'd be all over it, but otherwise...nah.

Snow. Bah. No match for an American Edentate.

I know you wrote this post just for me!!! I'm so jealous you got to see one in the wild... (but no pics of Liam's expression?)

I love love love the design pattern on the bands--sort of makes me think of an Egyptian wall painting.

These comments crack me up. I also live in Florida and anytime you want to come and bring the family, we'll put you up. And we are not ax murderers. Promise. BWAAAAHHAAAAHA!

PS I am second generation Floridian and I have been learning from these posts about my home state. Like snow in Ohio, I guess we don't appreciate what we have!

I wanted to see a Dillo for years when I came to Fl for winter. Now I am staying here to help my 95 yr old Mom. I have seen several of them in the last two years and gotten some nice photos of them too. Glad to read this information that is new to me. My gt grd dtr has a book about a dillo named Mr Snuffolopolus so that is what I call them.

Posted by Shirley March 11, 2011 at 5:02 AM

I saw one in Texas years ago, and carry zero negative feelings toward them, but I sure learned a lot from your post!

Years ago we were in Florida, before the space coast festival, traveling a back sandy road and out popped an armadillo.
I had to get a photo, so I crept up to it, got on my hands and knees to have the proper view point and snapped the shot.
The armadillo went straight up in surprise and so did I in reaction to his jump.
I know I didn’t make it 4 feet but the armadillo might have, I” was to busy to notice at the time.

They sleep 16 hours? Perhaps they are related to cats.............. and teenagers.

I also hope to see an armadillo one day, not only see it, but track it. Did you get a chance to observe its' feet?

Bizarre feet, Kat, and I've read they leave birdlike trident tracks. I think that Sunday's post has some foot/claw shots. Really an amazement all around.

Island Rider, you are in a select club of non-axe-murderers who've met the elusive Skunk Ape.

Thanks for all that interesting information! I lived peaceably enough with one living under my deck for years. When he was scritching against the foundation of the house I got freaked when he woke me up at first, but soon enough I would just fall back to sleep saying to myself, "It's only Amarillo, the armadillo..."

Here's sure bait for armadillos-- set up camp on the grounds of a cicada brood emerging (at the right latitude of course)! I was woken up by armadillos banging into my shoulder from outside the tent as they careened about gobbling cicada nymphs all night!
Annie C

Posted by Anonymous March 11, 2011 at 8:33 PM

I love the waddling armadillo in the Clash's video, "Rock the Casbah." It always makes me laugh.

Wayne, PA

Posted by Anonymous March 13, 2011 at 3:19 PM

A bit of native Florida lore: when you pick them up, they pee. Lots.

[Back to Top]