Thursday, February 11, 2010

First Armadilla of Spring

Merrill Dubach has reported the first armadillo of spring.  Unlike the ground hog this probably has no meteorologic meaning.  They have been increasing in numbers over recent years, slowly expanding out of their usual Texas territory because of a decrease in serious predators.  There was however a time when man became a preditor and then a armadillo farmer.

It all started when young Charles Apelt, a German basket weaver, moved to Texas in 1887.  By chance he saw and killed an armadillo and noticed its curved shape would make a good basket. He attached the head to its tail, making a nice handle.  After making a few baskets, his novelty item became more popular.
Soon he recruited neighboring farmers and had a growing industry.  In the 1920s,  at least six separate suppliers in Texas making silk lined sewing baskets from the shell of an armadillo.
The business grew through the 1940's with ads in magazines and newsreels.  The business survived his death in 1944 and the family later began raising armadillos commercially.  The business finally closed down in 1971.  The whole story is available at this web site.

Before you start to chase dreams of riches, a few words of caution.  Dillas tend to have a lower body temperature than most other mammals and are carriers of leprosy.  There have been a few documented cases of transmission to humans, probably by scratches, bites or biting them back (i.e. eating them).  We are probably advised to leave them alone.
These "Texas speedbumps" get that nickname from their unfortunate habit of jumping straight up when scared.  This probably served them well when escaping a predator, but is a liability when a car tries to avoid hitting one with the wheels by passing directly over them.  You can read more from Missouri Conservationist online or download a booklet from MDC for the pros and cons of getting rid of them.

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