Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Armadillo- The Quattro Mom

During a drizzly morning my lovely editor read me a passage on armadillos from About Mammals and How they Live by Charles and Elizabeth Schwartz.*  Their birthing habits led me to read more about this recent Missouri intruder.
We are all familiar with these strange creatures, also known as Dasypus novemcinctus or Texas Speed-bumps.  They have an adaptive defensive strategy of jumping straight up when startled, helping them avoid the first lunge of a predator. This served them well until they encountered the automobile.  Try to avoid hitting one by straddling it and it will likely jump straight up into the bumper. Scitech/mysteries
Armadillos appear to have been created by a mammalian design committee with a majority of herpetologists and paleontologists.  There are 20 species, all native to the Western Hemisphere.  The largest is the cleverly named Giant Armadillo which can reach five feet in length and 130 pounds.  Their nearest kin are the sloths and anteaters.  In spite of their appearance, they have proven resilient and have adapted to climatic change better than many humans.
Technically,  nine-banded armadillos are not an invasive species.  They are not native to Missouri and cause economic damage to lawns and golf courses.  They avoid the "invasive" label because they arrived here on their own four legs, rather than being brought here by humans.
The passage that caught Barb's attention was this.
"Although armadillo young are well-developed at birth, the mother still prepares a nest for them in an enlarged room at the end of her tunnel.  Here her babies are born.  In the mammal world, armadillos are unusual because there are always four youngsters at a time, and they are identical in every respect, including sex.  Truly quadruplets!  The skin coat of the young is still soft as leather; its armorlike  texture does not completely harden until the young are fully grown." **
Though relatively new to the state, they are considered part of Missouri's wildlife and should not be killed wantonly. If you trap or shoot an armadillo, Missouri's Wildlife Code requires you to report the action to a state conservation agent within 24 hours.
Though some armadillos carry the bacterium that causes leprosy, the risk to humans is very small. Few cases of leprosy in the United States have been linked to contact with armadillos, and those instances involved prolonged exposure according to John Miller, a naturalist supervisor at MDC's Shepherd Hills Conservation Center.
A more likely danger, Miller said, is standing or leaning over an unsuspecting armadillo. When startled, armadillos can jump several feet straight up. (This may be one reason armadillos often end up as road kill.) Weighing up to 20 pounds and equipped with armor plates, an armadillo can pack an unintentional wallop when alarmed. Missouri Extension
With the warming trend or recent years, it seems safe to say that armadillos are with us for the long haul.  We can expect to occasionally run into their nose shaped holes as they dig out grubs and insects.  If only they would specialize in Japanese beetles.  As for the golf course problem you may soon be saying,  "Hey, you want to go shoot 40 holes today?"
(editor's note:  Ironically yesterday while I was standing near the creek, I was briefly foot to foot with one.  It ran up to me, both of us were surprised, neither of us jumped, then it charged down the stream bed.)

There is a comprehensive article from the 1997 Missouri Conservationist on line at this site.

*Charles and Elizabeth Schwartz wrote The Wild Mammals of Missouri, a beautifully illustrated encyclopedic work.  Charles was the original illustrator of Aldo Leopold's Sand County Almanac.
**   All About Mammals and How They Live, Charles and Elizabeth Schwartz, 1993 was written as a companion to Wild Mammals of Missouri.  It looks at all mammals in terms of where they live, how they get their food, care for their young, defend themselves, etc.  It is a great way to  understand mammals adaptations.
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