Armadillos are interesting, resilient creatures
by Rex Niemeyer, Goliad State Park Ranger
Sep 24, 2013 | 342 views | 0 0 comments | 13 13 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Armadillos have better vertical leaps than NBA players.
Armadillos have better vertical leaps than NBA players.
You know, the nine-banded armadillo de-serves a lot more respect than it’s usually given. After all, Texas declared the armadillo the state mascot by executive decree in 1981 and then it was named the Texas State Small Mammal in 1995.

There are a lot of interesting things about the armadillo and, by the time you finish reading this article, you’ll likely agree that this marvelous little animal deserves all the respect we can give it.

Long ago, Spanish explorers and settlers gave the little animal the name “armadillo,” which in Spanish means “little armored one.” When German settlers arrived in Texas, they named it Panzerschween (armored pig) because it tasted similar to pork. And during the Great Depression, the armadillo became known as the “Hoover Hog” because many people considered President Herbert Hoover responsible for the economic woes of the 1930’s.

Although the armadillo is not very athletic-looking with its stubby body, short legs and dim eyesight, it’s actually pretty good at survival. For example, they can choose to swim at the water’s surface or alternatively walk along the bottom of a body of water for up to six minutes at a time.

The average NBA player’s vertical jump is 28 inches. When scared, the armadillo has the ability to jump 36 inches straight up into the air. While this is a great survival tactic against natural predators, it usually spells doom for the poor armadillo when encountering vehicles.

Next time you see an armadillo in the middle of the road, if it can be safely done, please drive around it rather than over it.

The reproductive system of the armadillo is pretty unique. Breeding takes place in summer, and the female is able to delay implantation for up to 14 weeks. After the blastocyst implants on the uterine wall, it divides into four embryos. The mother armadillo then gives birth to identical quadruplets in the spring.

Armadillos will dig as many as 10 burrows in a range that can vary from 10 to 50 acres depending on the availability of food sources. They are nocturnal and spend their nights foraging and digging, using their sense of smell to find millipedes, centipedes, ants, termites and other undesirable invertebrates.

Their absolute favorite food, however, is beetle larvae. Unfortunately, people don’t seem to realize that armadillos are actually a homeowner’s ally, because they are after the root-eating larvae that cause our lawns to develop dead spots.

Instead of casting armadillos as the bad guys, we should instead be viewing them as four-legged superheroes, busy saving lawns everywhere from the likes of horrible root-eating subterranean villains.

Armadillos have a life expectancy averaging 7 to 8 years with some living as much as 20 years. Like many animals, the young fall to predation at a high rate because the keratinous skin of their shells does not completely harden until adulthood.

Weather is also a threat to armadillos because they do not hibernate. When temperatures near the freezing point, they will stay in their burrows. The other extreme is drought. Food becomes scarce and armadillos are forced to expand their home range and most often the only available food source is in our lawns. Regardless, a healthy armadillo can only live about 10 days without food.

People tend to deal with armadillos in different ways when they find them in yards. The best thing to do is to leave them alone since this is their home as much as it is ours. Unfortunately, some people take the step of exterminating this iconic wildlife symbol of Texas. A better option would be to live trap our beloved state mascot. Trapping is not difficult; one just needs a raccoon-sized trap, a couple of 1x12x 12-foot boards and a little dirt to cover the trap flooring. Set the trap where the armadillo has been visiting and use the boards to funnel it into the trap.

Remember, armadillos love riparian zones (areas near streams, rivers and ponds) for relocation.

Our oh-so-ugly-but-adorable state mammal deserves respect for its uniqueness in the animal world. Let’s hope the drought will end soon so that we will see less evidence of ’dillo visits in our yards. And when we do see it, let’s just shrug it off, refill a few holes, replant a few plants and thank the responsible ’dillo for ridding our yard of some pesky, root-eating bad guys.
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