By Johnny Beall
(Ed. Note: Essay originally published in the Featherless Flyer, Vol I, Issue 4, September 2004)
Why did the chicken cross the road? Of course, it was to prove to the armadillo that it was possible.
In the competition to see who is first in the number of road kills of all vertebrates in the southern United States, it always seems to be a close race between the opossums and the armadillos. It seems the armadillos edge the opossums, but not by much.
Armadillos are a unique species in North America in that they produce one litter per year, and that litter is always identical quadruplets. This means that each of the four is genetically identical to the others, even to all being of the same sex. Armadillos are close kin to anteaters and sloths which occur in South America. Actually the armadillo migrated here from South America and many people can recall when the first ones moved into this area.
Now for the big question, why do so many armadillos become road pizza? A look at their teeth will provide a clue. They have no incisors or canines and their primitive teeth are adapted for eating invertebrates, which include many insects.
Billions of insects are hit by speeding automobile every day and set a gourmet smorgasbord for the insect eating armadillo. But there is always a “catch” in any good deal, and the “catch” in this feast is that the table is set on the highway. Armadillos are nocturnal so they go picking amongst the beetles and butterflies on the highway in the dark. The next vehicle adds the armadillo to the carnage because of two major defects to its nature when faced with modern technology.
Ed: Want to know what those two defects are??? To be continued next week!
See armadillos and more at Hagerman NWR. For activities and programs at the Refuge, visit http://www.friendsofhagerman.com and for the official Refuge website, go to http://www.fws.gov/southwest/refuges/texas/hagerman/index.html.
Johnny Beall retired as Hagerman NWR Manager in May, 2008, after 35 years with the US FWS including seven years at Hagerman. Photo from Hagerman NWR photo files.