Sunday, September 5, 2010

Flying Armadillo

Who has driven through Texas and not seen armadillo road kill?  Because of this I’ve always pictured armadillos as blind, dumb, lumbering tanks too stupid to avoid vehicles.  Not necessarily so!

Armadillos are an amazing group of mammals from South America.  There are twenty different species of armadillos, all closely related to sloths and anteaters.  They have a hard bone shell and short strong legs well suited to digging.  They eat insects such as ants, beetles, and grubs.  Their tongues are sticky, like an ant-eater’s to better catch the insects.  Armadillos do dig little annoying holes in the yard to get at these delicacies, but the holes are not particularly destructive. 

Texas is populated by the nine-banded armadillo, a cute little creature.  We have a locally resident armadillo family at Roseland.  I’ve seen it many times in the evening and at night slowly crawling along the ground, digging for insects.  Usually it ignores me; it has poor eyesight.  But it does have good hearing and sense of smell.

One afternoon, as I was taking wedding pictures, I noticed an armadillo in the yard next to the rose garden.  I sneaked up on it, and clicked a picture.  The shutter’s small clicking noise must have alarmed it because it took off into the air and quickly disappeared.  It literally flew about 15 ft!  Don’t believe me?  Take a look at the following pictures.

Here are some interesting facts about the nine-banded armadillos of Texas:
•    Contrary to popular belief, the nine-banded armadillo cannot roll into a ball to escape predators.  It must rely on its armor, speed, and agility to survive. 
•    The female always gives birth to four identical young from the same egg.
•    Some females have been known to delay birth for up to two years after fertilization to compensate for stressful situations.
•    Armadillos are excellent swimmers (they do the armadillo paddle which is similar to dog paddle).
•    Armadillos can go a long distance underwater, typically walking on the bottom; they can hold their breath for up to six minutes at a time.
•    Armadillos have been known to float long distances by gulping air into their intestines, essentially creating a balloon inside a shell.
•    The nine-banded armadillo is not a threatened species (its population is actually growing), but its ownership in the U.S. is regulated.  For example it’s illegal to own one in Maine, and Montana classifies it as livestock with the same requirements and restrictions as cattle.
•    Armadillos are edible (must be cooked thoroughly as they can carry leprosy); can be substituted for pork, chicken, or beef; and is part of the local diet in many parts of South America.
•    Armadillos have been used for research into leprosy, multiple births and other reproductive issues, HIV studies, skin and organ transplants, cancer, and more.

Armadillos are cute.  And yes, they can fly!  Come to Roseland Plantation in Ben Wheeler, TX, and see our flying armadillo.  You can learn more about armadillos at
One day, perhaps, I’ll tell you about flying pigs, too…

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