Thursday, June 11, 2015

'Dillo Trouble

Checked the Butterfly Garden at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge and found we have had a night visitor. This visitor’s diet, according to the National Wildlife Federation, might consist of “… almost 500 different foods, most of which are insects and invertebrates such as beetles, cockroaches, wasps, yellow jackets, fire ants, scorpions, spiders, snails, and white grubs. A lesser part of the diet is comprised of small reptiles and amphibians and mammals, and  reptile and bird eggs. Less than 10 percent of the diet is from fruit, seeds, fungi, and other plant matter.” In our case, the visitor, who finds food through his sense of smell, is ploughing up areas of the garden as he roots for the insects and invertebrates. He can have the grubs but in the process he is uprooting desirable plants!

Our visitor is a nine-banded armadillo, the only species of ‘dillo found in the United States. “The term “armadillo” means 'little armored one,' and refers to the presence of bony, armor-like plates covering their body. Despite their name, nine-banded armadillos can have 7 to 11 bands on their armor.”

Dillo at HNWR, by Dick Malnory

In an essay, “The Night of the Armadillos” by Bertram Rota (Literary Austin, Ed. Don Graham, TCU Press, 2007), the London author reports seeing an armadillo in the wild for the first time: “An armadillo! As large as life and twice as natural in the eyes of a Londoner who had never seen this prehistoric survival outside the London Zoo…A good two feet long and armoured like a tank, the creature quietly nibbled grass, quite unruffled.” Then Rota presents an interesting picture of six grown men, including J. Frank Dobie, their host, plunging through knee-high grass, with Dobie exhorting his guests, “They root up everything I plant. Done more damage than I can bear” and “…drive them into the creek”. After all sorts of maneuvers by the chasers, they finally gave up the battle, declaring “It was a fair fight, six to six, but the armadillos won. In a sudden scurry all were gone and quietness reigned.”

Those who feel helpless in the face of the midnight forager might take comfort in the fact, from NWF, that “Armadillos have long been a source of food for humans. The nine-banded was nicknamed “Hoover hog” and “poor man’s pork” by people who blamed President Hoover for the Great Depression.”

According to Texas Parks and Wildlife, “Armadillos are found in all but the western Trans-Pecos portion of Texas in a variety of habitats; brush, woods, scrub and grasslands. Originally from South America, they are now in Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas and Louisiana. Their distribution is often based on soil conditions, and they are not found where the soil is too hard to dig.”

“Although breeding occurs in July, the embryo remains in a dormant state until November. Four young are born in a burrow in March. All four young, always of the same sex, are identical quadruplets and developed from the same egg. They even share a single placenta while in the womb. Armadillos are the only mammals in which multiple young form from a single egg with any regularity.”

Armadillos can live from 7 – 20 years in the wild. Their Conservation Status is “Increasing”. From the NWF:  “Humans have killed off most of their natural predators, and roadways have offered them easier means of travel to new habitats. Nine-banded armadillos have a tendency to jump straight up into the air when they are startled. This often leads to their demise on highways. They are small enough that cars can pass right over them, but they leap up and hit the undercarriage of vehicles. They are also poisoned, shot, or captured by people that consider them lawn and agricultural pests. Some are eaten or used for the curio trade.”

Last - what about leprosy?  According to an recent article in Smithsonian magazine, "... with a body temperature of just 90 degrees, one hypothesis suggests, the armadillo presents a kind of Goldilocks condition for the disease—not too hot, not too cold. Bacterial transmission to people can occur when we handle or eat the animal.  The easiest way to avoid contagion is to simply avoid unnecessary contact with the critters.

We would have more R-E-S-P-E-C-T for the State Small Mammal of Texas if he would go elsewhere for dinner!

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