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9:35 p.m. - 2006-01-28
An Armored Mammal.
Greetings, friends!

I hope you are all feeling fantastic! Any winter critter sightings?

Last week R and I took a cold walk in eastern Richfield, with nary a critter to be seen. The local bunnies and squirrels are doing well, and yesterday I encountered a murder of crows down in the Mississippi gorge. It was sunny and 45, which is for sure January running weather in Minnesota! I ran down there and proceeded to walk and observe all of the crows. They were cawing loudly, it seemed back and forth to each other across the river! I imagined their conversation to go something like this:
Westside crow: "Eastsiders are WIMPS!"
Eastside crow: "Whatever, at least we don't have a noisy train on OUR side!"
Westside crow: "Loser! At least we don't eat the student's trash over at the U!"
Eastside crow: "WhatEVER."

Anyway, it was great to be outside, to observe the water and see ducks and geese doin' their thang.

Obviously after my last entry I need to apologize, at least to my roommate D and to Taipraita , who were both offended by the beastly cockroach pictures! To placate these fine folks, I'll insert this fuzzy picture here, from

Whew, feel better everyone?! By the way, I'm wearing my new bunny shirt today! You'll get to see it soon.

All right, now onto the creature feature of the day! Two years ago princess GH and I went to Austin so she could look at the University of Texas there. We saw a dead armadillo on the road! Therefore I encouraged R to find one for me on his recent work trip to San Antonio. But to no avail.

So, let us become educated on these ancient armored beasts! The word armadillo is taken from the Spanish word "armado", or "armed one". There are nine genera and 20 species of armadillos, all living in South and Central America and the southern U.S.! There are also some island armadillos living on Granada, Trinidad and Tobago.

Here's the Texas State Mammal, the nine banded armadillo! Photo courtesy of

Cute! Dasypus novemcinctus (above) is the armadillo that lives in the U.S. Their range is from South America up to Kansas and Missouri. Nine banded armadillos are about the size of a house cat, except with shorter legs. So, about fifteen to seventeen inches long, with a tail from fourteen to sixteen inches long, and weighing eight to seventeen pounds. While some nine banded armadillos do have nine armored bands around their middle, this number varies from seven to eleven, depending on the range of the animal.

The armor of the armadillo is different than other creature's protective devices. The horn of the rhino, for example, is made of compacted hairs, just like the plates of the pangolin anteaters. Instead, armadillos grow tiny plates of bone that are covered with rough skin. There are two main plates, over the shoulders and the hindquarters, connected by the flexible bands in the center.

Armadillos (nine banded and the others I'll mention below) are nocturnal, although scientists think they might respond more to temperature than to light levels. These animals dig burrows two to three feet deep, sometimes stealing a home from a skunk or other burrower. Armadillos will either fly solo or burrow with other members of their own sex.

As you can imagine, armadillos are quite heavy, and will sometimes walk on the bottom of a shallow body of water to get across! But armadillos can swim! They inhale large quantities of air to inflate their intestines, and then dog paddle. Armadillos can hold their breath for six minutes, which obviously helps with watersports, as well as minimizing the amount of dirt they inhale while they dig.

Nine banded armadillos prefer marshy land with forests nearby for cover. They like loose soil, as their main foods are underground insects! While armadillos don't have the best hearing or vision, they can smell a worm up to eight inches underground. Yum. They also eat eggs, snakes and lizards, plants and carrion. To facilitate in digging, these cute little guys have four toes in front with long claws. But the back legs have five toes!

While not much is known about the sex life of most armadillos, the nine banded species has been frequently studied. Male armadillos mark their territory with urine, and I guess find fine females around July and August for hot nooky. Unlike most wild creatures, it seems that the female armadillo LIES ON HER BACK for intercourse.

Annie Lennox sez: "Don't mess with a missionary man."

Ms. armadillo only releases one egg for fertilization, which then just chillaxes for a while in her uterus; it doesn't implant until November. One hundred and twenty days later, FOUR IDENTICAL BABIES are born from this one egg! It's true; nine banded armadillos are always born identical quadruplets. Mama even has four teats to feed the little ones! Occasionaly three or five babies are born, but always identical in form, DNA and gender! Here's a baby picture from

Scientists have studied this phenomenon, along with the fact that armadillos are the only other creature that can suffer from leprosy; humans being the other.

While nine banded armadillos can't fully roll into a ball, their South American cousin the three banded armadillo really can! Here's a picture of Tolypeutes from

Sixty million years ago the first ancestor of armadillos lived. It was about the size of a rhino! But nowadays, the largest armadillo is the giant armadillo! Another South American, this guy grows up to three feet long and 130 pounds! It's also unique for having 100 small teeth, which is a lot more than most mammals possess. Look at the digging claws! Here's a photo of Priodontes maximus from

A very rare armadillo species is the pink fairy, which lives in Patagonia and western Argentina. This armadillo lives almost exclusively underground and has only light armor. It lives in hot sands, and can completely bury itself in seconds! Here's Chlamyphorus truncatus, another picture from the animal diversity page from the University of Michigan:

Aren't armadillos great? The good news is that the U.S. range of the nine banded armadillo has actually expanded since 1900! But many of the South American species are becoming endangered as agriculture damages more of their territory. Although armadillos can damage crops by their digging, mostly they are helpful creatures as they eat many bugs. Natural predators include humans, coyotes and pumas, which have a big enough mouth to bite through the armor of a balled up three banded armadillo! Unfortunately the roadkilled armadillo we encountered in Austin is not uncommon. Armadillos tend to jump up in the air when startled, which might get them away from a dog, but usually kills them under a car.

Please let me know if you find any armadillos, southern readers!

Huggies and farewell to January,


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