Back to Nature (Published on TBNWeekly.com - June 21, 2006)
Armadillo – the little armored one
 
[Image]
Photo by Rick Tremmel
An armadillo forages in the Tremmel back yard.
The Florida armadillo is a fairly recent addition spreading from Mexico, via Texas and the Gulf of Mexico in the 1940s through the 1960s, but Florida had Armadillos in prehistoric times. A slightly larger relative of our current armadillo, Dasypus bellus, occurred in Florida from the middle of the Miocene epoch. The nine-banded armadillo is filling a niche left vacant by an extinct relative.

The armadillo is the only North American mammal armored with heavy, bony plates. The Spanish conquistadors gave them the name of armadillo “little armored one,” from the Spanish word “armado” meaning armored.

Our Florida armadillo has nine, narrow, jointed, armor bands that encircle its midriff. These bands are more obvious than the continuing bands on the lower back. The head is small. The underparts are soft. This is the danger zone of this animal when attacked by predators such as: dogs, coyotes, bobcats, panthers. The ears of the armadillo are also soft. The sparse hair, mostly on the belly and around the chin is brown, tan and sometimes yellowish.

The armadillo’s burrows are approximately 6 feet long with a hollow at the end lined with soft grass and leaves. The pair mates in late July or early August but the embryo doesn’t start to develop until early winter, November or December. The egg divides into four identical quadruplets that are born the following year in March or April.

The main diet of the armadillo is: insects, lizards and lizard eggs, small ground birds and bird eggs, frogs, snakes and crayfish. They also love garbage.

They love to dig, which is one of the reasons they get into so much trouble with their neighbors. The holes they leave are similar to raccoon holes, about 4 to 6 inches deep of fresh dirt dug at a slant. This digging is for insects and grubs. It is estimated that each adult armadillo consumes 200 pounds of insects yearly. That alone should win them some favorable kudos.

Armadillos are technically nocturnal preferring to forage at night after human activity has subsided. But I have seen them in my back yard and at local parks such as Saw Grass Park and Narrows Park, during the day. The most common observation of the armadillo is viewing the poor thing lying dead on the side of the road. This is also the most prevalent cause of death.

Many people still trap armadillos for food. During the Great Depression armadillo was considered an important food source and was dubbed with humorous names like: “possum on the half shell,” “pocket

dinosaurs,” “Texas turkey” and “Hoover pork.” It is reported to taste very much like pork. The shells of the armadillo have some commercial value as well, being used as bowls or made into interesting purses.

We all have different ways of observing the animal world. Some people view wildlife as a food source, some as pure nuisance. Some honor wildlife as spiritual relations, some simply enjoy observing the natural beauty of the four leggeds and the winged creatures. All of us need to pause a moment from time to time. Take a step out of time and appreciate those even the smallest of creatures … back to nature.

If the armadillo has become a pest in your garden, the Florida Extension office has quite a bit of information on our Florida armadillo and can provide you with some humane ways of controlling.

Bill Kern, Urban Wildlife Extension Specialist, has written a special paper that you may obtain from the Extension Office (Vol. 32, No. 5) which includes plans on how to build a proper trap for armadillos.

Karen can be reached at MyMuddyPawsStudio@gmail.com.

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