If you thought an armadillo is an armadillo is an armadillo, you probably didn’t say it out loud because it doesn’t roll off your tongue like the rose comparison. We spent our camping week-end saying “armadillo!” often since the Piney Woods have a bunch of them.
Murphey saw the first one within an hour of our setting up the tents Friday night. I was holding his leash when my arm made an instant and painful 135 degree rotation as Murf lunged at an armadillo grubbing for bugs under a pine tree.
After we secured Murf, I chased the creature with my camera like a crazed paparazzi. Bob called me a commando photographer as I pursued our retreating armadillo’s waddling rear ever mindful that he might turn and attack. I did know that our armored guest would more likely freeze than attack, but I had some lurking notion that there might be leprosy contagion in his wake.
There are 20 different types of armadillos. One, the 9 banded armadillo, lives from the U.S. to Peru. The other types live only in Central and South America. The name “armadillo” means “little armored thing” and comes from the Spanish explorers. The Aztec name was Azotochtli, which means “turtle-rabbit.”
In Kipling’s “Just So Stories,” he writes that the armadillo was actually born out of an alliance between a turtle and a hedgehog. To escape the jaguar, the turtle taught the hedgehog how to be less prickly and more armored; the hedgehog taught the turtle how to curl up into a protective ball. The end result was the first two armadillos which thoroughly confused the hungry jaguar.
Armadillos do not rely on their attack skills to survive but on their ability to camouflage themselves as well as to dig or run. I didn’t see the speed asset to our little fellow so I’ll take his word for it.
Their main source of food is bugs and they are related to anteaters and sloths. Their backs are rigid so the stories about them rolling into balls to escape danger are only true for one-the 3 banded armadillo. It can completely enclose its body in its shell almost from birth because the front and rear portion of the shell are not attached to the body. They are endangered due to habitat destruction.
In fact, the 9 banded armadillo in the U.S. is the only armadillo that isn’t endangered. Their ranks are growing. Although once found only in the southern U.S., they’ve been spotted as far north as Massachusetts and Michigan.
I was wrong about the possibility of getting leprosy from our nocturnal visitor. Armadillos are used for research. Since their body temps are lower than humans, their bodies favor the growth of the leprosy causing bacteria. This has permitted development of a leprosy vaccine. The chances of getting leprosy from a wild armadillo are decreased if you don’t order your ‘dillo burger medium rare. Always request well done.