It’s been three years since we last saw an armadillo and there they were, three of God’s most homely children, exiting that no man’s land under our back deck.
Those we saw last week could be the same trio, but I think they’d have matured more. This year’s models were a pale leathery brown; I described the 2010 versions as about 12 inches long, with a tapering nine-inch tail. I said they wore a pinkish tan-colored leathery shell, but Dave saw it as gray-brown.
Whatever the exact shade, this year’s struck me as surprisingly clean, especially given their eating habits. They shuffle and snuffle for whatever insects they uncovered with long pointy noses and oversized front claws. National Geographic sources say this creature can make a straight-up jump of four to five feet and sprint as fast as 10 miles an hour.
Meet your new neighbor, the nine-banded armadillo. Weak eyes and hard of hearing, sleeps 16 hours a day – one source called them “Hillbilly Speed Bumps.”
Their taking up residency here should not be a surprise. Like humans, they go where the weather suits them and food is plentiful. Their diet is primarily beetles and bugs with a soupcon of carrion if they get lucky. They can’t excavate hard soil, and Georgia’s packed clay soil does apparently slow their progress.
There are 20 or so kinds of armadillos in South America, but only the nine-banded armadillo has made it this far north. A colder climate will also thwart expansion of their territories; their own metabolism is so suppressed it can’t provide heat for more than a few days.
Quick, without reference to any pictures, what is the family to which armadillos belong? I associate them with anteaters, or maybe even ’possums, but what mammal wears a shell and rolls into a ball to protect itself?
He doesn’t, really; sources conflict. But it makes a predator think twice about extricating a rounded shell from a 15-foot long burrow, and then there are those huge front claws. The armadillo’s tunneling, burrowing and feeding habits disrupt landscaping, and he has been blamed for taking chicken eggs. The only other downer are his slight association with leprosy and rabies, which has transpired mainly in the laboratory.
Medical researchers studying multiple births, organ transplants, birth defects and some diseases find the armadillo interesting because the female delivers four youngsters, all identical – including their gender. She produces only one egg, which divides into four embryos, all male or all female.
The mother can also delay the implantation of the fertilized eggs for as long as two years.
Armadillos are on the menu in Latin America and the southern United States, says one reference. (I imagine they taste like chicken.)
My question: As English-speaking North Americans, do we say armadillo or “armadeeyo”? I have no problem saying “kaysadeeyo” (quesadillo) and only a slight twitch for pronouncing llama “yama.”
Speaking of new neighbors, we saw the largest spider we’ve ever seen “in the wild.” No, our bathtub is not wild, but oddly, spiders and bugs don’t seem able to climb up out of it. This guy including tensed-up legs the size of a plastic fruit jar lid. The critter cooperated and did not try really hard to escape. Dave evicted him a few steps from the deck. (Might have made it a little farther, Hon.)
I think this was a jumping spider or possibly a wolf spider. We had no interest in destroying him. (Her? Probably.) Spiders are not predators, at least not of humans. And contrary to folklore, they do produce a small amount of poison, intended to disable the prey that wanders into its web, but most are harmless to humans.
Black widows and brown recluse spiders are another story. While small, they are poisonous and should be avoided. We saw a lot of them while our house was being built, but none in the 40-some years we’ve lived in it.
Our favorite is the garden spider, a large but slender orb weaver that performs magic at twilight by building an orb web two feet across in just an hour or so. If she chooses a spot like your front door, that’s only because the light from your house attracts small insects the spider fancies for an all-night orgy.
Ah, Ms. Spider, does your race disparage ours the way we fuss about yours? I hope not. I believe there is room for both our families. Just leave ours alone and we’ll do the same for you.
[Sallie Satterthwaite of Peachtree City has been writing for The Citizen since our first issue Feb. 10, 1993. Before that she had served as a city councilwoman and as a volunteer emergency medical technician. She is the only columnist we know who has a fire station named for her. Her email is SallieS@Juno.com.]