Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Hey Armadillo!

I often write about the Pacific Northwest, because that's where I live.  Also, it's the most beautiful place on earth, and the Douglas fir to human ration is 1000:1, which is a statistic I just made up, but it feels right.

In any case, I'd like to dedicate some blog space to my southern roots.  I was born and raised in Central Arkansas.  (Yes, there are bears in Arkansas, but not many, and like many Ozark-dwellers, they keep to themselves.)  It came to my attention lately that there is a very special, very distinctive animal that I have been taking for granted.  The humble, charming armadillo.  I thought every American child grew up with armadillos in their bushes (not double entendre).  Not so.  These tragically slow-moving animals live south of the Mason-Dixon line, from South Carolina to Texas.  Many species proliferate in Latin America, but only one species, the nine-banded armadillo, lives in the U.S.  

Wikipedia says that nine-banded armadillos are marching north into Yankee territory, because they have "no natural predators."  Well Wikipedia, I beg to differ.  Anyone who has driven east of New Mexico on an Interstate numbered 1-40 has preyed on armadillos.  Sure, maybe that's stretching the word "natural," but road fatalities are a significant factor in armadillo population statistics.  They look like little medieval armored vehicles, but they are no match for a car.

Here are some facts about armadillos, which I have generously borrowed from the San Diego Zoo website

1) They are mammals.

2) The largest armadillo ever weighed 132 pounds.  The longest an armadillo can live is 30 years.  So if you are petite, and you get into an armadillo battle, the best way to win is to outlive it.

3) The giant armadillo is the biggest.

High-school graduation photos are so cheesy!

4) The smallest armadillo in the world is the pink fairy armadillo. Also the sissiest.  When threatened it digs a hole and hides.

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5) The armadillo with the best name is the screaming hairy armadillo.

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Here's what it sounds like:

6) The armadillo with the funniest defense mechanism is the three banded armadillo.  It can turn itself into a croquet ball.

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7) Are armadillos good at competitive racing?  Only people in Texas would seek the answer to that question.

8) Armadillos spread leprosy.  That's right, scourge-of-the-dark-ages leprosy.  The interesting thing is that European settlers gave armadillos leprosy 400-500 years ago, and now armadillos give it back to humans, around 50-80 cases a year.  This is because people in the south eat them. 

That's about it for armadillos.  The greatest piece of art inspired by armadillos is the song "Hey Armadillo" by Elton John.  Hey armadillo I can't tell which way you're facing/Maybe that's good thinking, maybe you don't even know/No one's gonna bother you if they can't find your front end/Then again I guess you find your love life rather slow

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