There’s No Place Like Home

Judged only by color, the small, snuffling creature making its way along the roadside east of Alamo Springs might have been taken for just another limestone rock. But rocks don’t have ears, or pointed snouts, and they certainly don’t dig into the dirt with the energy of a hyperactive toddler.

When the nine-banded armadillo (Dasypus novemcinctus) is foraging, there isn’t much that distracts it, partly because of its poor eyesight. The animal relies on its ears and nose to detect food or predators, and it’s easier than you might think to walk up on one from behind. When it finally senses your presence, it often raises up on its haunches to evaluate the situation.

I was surprised that this one seemed content to keep foraging even after spotting me, rather than scurrying away into the brush. I was especially pleased to be able to see some of the hairs around its sides; they function much like whiskers on a cat, helping the poorly-sighted creature to find its way around.

For nearly twenty minutes it wandered the roadside, stopping occasionally to sniff or to dig.

Eventually, it stopped sniffing and crossed the road, moving so quickly I had a hard time keeping up.

All was well until it came to the fence. For nearly five minutes, it walked back and forth along the wire, stopping occasionally as though considering whether it would be worth digging its way to the other side.

Apparently, it decided digging would be too much trouble. In a flash, the athletic armadillo jumped straight into the air, propelling itself onto the fence wire.

Then, as gracefully as you please, it pushed off the wire and landed on the ground.

With what might have been a grin of self-satisfaction on its face, it trotted down the fence line until it came to a patch of clean, soft dirt.

Claws flying, it began creating and enlarging a hole until, finally, it slipped beneath the fence, and out of sight.

It seemed our beloved Texas icon — the state’s official small mammal and well-known Muse — had arrived safely at home, just like Gary P. Nunn at the end of his London trip. Whether it celebrated by writing a song, I can’t say.

 

“London Homesick Blues”  aka “Home With the Armadillo”

 

Comments always are welcome.
For some interesting Texas armadillo history, visit “Armadillo Whispers” at The Task at Hand.

52 thoughts on “There’s No Place Like Home

    1. There is that. When an armadillo decides to make our home its home, trouble’s on the horizon. Until I’d seen this one at work, I knew they were diggers, but I had no idea how much dirt they could move, or how quickly.

    1. I’d actually stopped to photograph some thistles when I spotted the critter. It kept moving from sunlight to shade, so the road photos are the best, but I was pleased just to get some whole-body shots. Most of the time, I only see ears or tail before one disappears into the brush. I read that they usually prowl at night — that’s been my experience — but when the weather suits them, they’ll come out in the daytime.

  1. Armadillos give birth to litters of four offspring, who are identical quadruplets. A neat trick if you can do it. Not a good idea to try to catch or handle one, as they are frequently infected with Hansen’s disease (leprosy). (We gave it to them, now they’re giving it back.) Best to let them go their separate ways. You wouldn’t think they were much good at leaping, but as you show, they are. Unfortunately, it frequently becomes their undoing.

    1. I only recently learned about the quadruplet births. That’s such a strange thing — even institutions of natural science haven’t figured it out. I hadn’t considered the fact that those four necessarily would be all males or all females, too: inevitable, given the fact that they’re clones.

    1. They’re moving north, just as their prehistoric ancestors did, so you may get the chance — especially if you travel south of Maine. I saw a report that they’ve been sighted in Pennsylvania. I’m sure they don’t thrive there because of the winters, but clearly some have been tempted to try it. (It’s possible that unwise people tried them as pets and then released them, of course. I like armadillos, but they aren’t advisable as pets, especially because of health concerns.)

    1. They’re cute as can be, and entertaining, but you and Jackie wouldn’t want even one in your gardens. On the other hand, they wouldn’t bother anything potted or trellised, so you’d probably suffer less than someone with a broad expanse of lawn.

  2. We Texans definitely have a love-hate relationship with armadillos. I trapped and relocated more than one to minimize damage to the yard, but finally decided fighting drought, armadillos and deer was more trouble than it was worth. That’s one of the mixed blessings of living in the country. Your yard is likely to be ragged, but the HOA won’t get after you because there is no HOA.

    I once worked at a university in Florida that conducted leprosy research. Their primary research subjects? Armadillos.

    1. It surprised me to learn that the Apelts already were selling armadillos to medical institutions for just that purpose quite early in their history.

      As for the basketmakers, I found this paragraph in a book called The Amazing Armadillo: Geography of a Folk Critter; it mentions people from places in your area, like Pipe Creek and Utopia.

      I deal with apartment regulations rather than HOAs, but I have friends who enjoy the presence of HOAs in their lives. It amuses me that one no-no involves outdoor clothes lines. Apparently wind and solar are good, unless you want to dry the sheets.

  3. You got excellent shots, Linda. “Mine”, lately, was scurrying around too quickly for me to get good ones. And as it scuttled away from me, I only got its behind. They can do a lot of damage to lawns, but I still like that funny creature.
    Have a great weekend, and stay healthy,
    Pit

    1. They certainly can scurry, and much faster than I assumed when I first met them. In fact, I spent nearly an hour with this one, and never did figure out why it was so willing to share the road with me. It’s true — most of us end up only seeing “the south end of an armadillo going north.” I don’t care. I like them, too, and I’m always happy to come across one.

      1. I don’t mind seeing the here. I need to fill in the holes in the lawn, though, soo, so that we won’t sprain our ankles.
        Have a wonderul weekend, and stay healthy,
        Pit

  4. I understand if you’re a gardener, homeowner, etc. these critters can be a destructive pest, just as groundhogs can drive us nuts in the north. But they’re fascinating-looking and kind of cute in a weird way. Wouldn’t have believed anything wearing all that armor could leap up so sprightly and get through a wire fence like that. And I love that song! My dad wanted me to tell you, when that song was new, they played it every Wed. night in college, around 2 am, when they’d finished the layout of the student newspaper.
    Wow you got some great shots!

    1. I knew armadillos could jump, but I was surprised to see this one go though the fence. Maybe it’s underbelly isn’t as soft as I’ve assumed. Hanging on that wire looks pretty darned uncomfortable, but it moved quickly, and didn’t seem to have any more trouble getting off the wire than on.

      The unfortunate side effect of the startle reflex is that they’ll jump straight up in roadways and get smooshed, but that’s also brought about a modern custom wholly as weird as armadillo lamp shades. Finding an upside-down armadillo carcass on the roadside’s an opportunity to tuck a beer into its feet. It’s become such a common practice that the armadillo wine holder is ubiquitous. Well, at least it is in certain circles.

      I love that you and your dad love Gary P’s song! It’s one of my all time favorites, too. And look! What could be better than a passle of guitarists and singers giving it a go in Luckenbach? That place is close to my favorite Texas ‘town.’

  5. My question Linda is a bit off topic…. Did you get the chance to have the “Cover Burger”?

    But, I really liked your photo’s… Even though those crazy ‘dillo’s are just a pest around here.

    1. Ha! In a manner of speaking — I split it with a friend, because we wanted some sweet potato fries, too. Honest to goodness, that place does put out a good burger. All the food’s good, as a matter of fact.

      I know the critters are pests, but they sure are cute. Well, maybe not ‘cute,’ but… something. I think I like them partly for their personality. When you get right down to it, they just want to be left alone to do their digging in peace. I did learn a couple of days ago that they aren’t affected by fire ants and will slurp them up, so give them a couple of points for that!

    1. I’ve thought about that comparison, and decided it really does fit, primarily because neither creature seems to be much interested in anything but roaming around and eating. Armadillos are peaceful creatures; with that shell, they don’t have to worry about natural predators, and they can just go about their business.

  6. So ugly, they’re cute! They do lumber, but they can boogie when they want to. Great set of shots and narration to match. And hats off to the closing with “London Homesick Blues”!

    1. And here’s something else I’ve learned about them. Their diet of ants also includes the fire ant; they’re perfectly happy to chow down on those, as the sting doesn’t bother them. One more check in the ‘plus’ column for these delightful creatures!

    1. I know that feeling of jealousy, particularly when someone’s photographed something that turns me into a frustrated five-year-old saying, “I wanna see it, too!” On the other hand, I’ve never seen a hedgehog, so we’re even!

  7. back in the early 70s my then husband and I were camping in the remote woods in east Texas and heard this horrible racket outside the tent. freaked us out, we thought some huge animal was out there. a timid poke of a flashlight out the door showed us the culprit was an armadillo.

    1. Laughing, here. That’s exactly how it was the first time I heard one. You wouldn’t think something so small would make such a racket, but I suppose that hard shell, combined with its shuffling and digging, makes sense of it. Especially in the fall, when there are plenty of dried leaves around, it can be remarkable.

  8. I have never seen one of these in the flesh and have never seen as many nice angles of one. They’re oddly fascinating looking. I’ve heard they rattle when they run and that they can jump straight up in the air. I did not know they carried Hansens. And goodness, how did we give them that?

    1. I saw you figured out that the tales of their jumping are true. How they manage it, I don’t know, except those muscles must be darned strong. I suppose all that digging and pushing through the dirt keeps them in form. I was surprised beyond words that this one didn’t run away, and that I was able to get a few photos despite having to keep moving constantly to keep up with it.

    1. They are curious creatures — at least in the sense of being an amazement to us. For the most part, their curiosity seems to be limited to thoughts of “where I can find the next grub?” I was delighted to come across it, and more than pleased that it didn’t take off for cover on a dead run.

    1. I see them relatively frequently, but what I see usually is an ear or a rear end heading into the tall grass. I’ve never found another one willing to hang around long enough for photos. Clearly, they’ll do that — the number of photos online is proof. But this was a first for me, and I was pleased beyond words.

  9. This is one remarkable sequence, Linda. Talk about being in the right place at the right time (and having a most willing photographic subject!). I’ve never seen an armadillo in person or that close and they have a very prehistoric feel to them, don’t they? I would love to touch one to see what that outer shell feels like. And so lithe to get through the fence. Isn’t it fun to watch animals think? I’m always intrgued by their process. Well done!

    1. I have touched a shell, and it’s not at all unpleasant. It’s smooth, like a seashell or a nice, tumbled rock. The thing that surprised me most about its leap through the fence was that it contradicted my assumption that they have a “soft underbelly.” Clearly, it’s not that tender, or that wire would have given it some discomfort. On the other hand — maybe that’s why it got off that wire so quickly.

      It is fun to watch animals think. This one clearly was engaged in some kind of reasoning process, however primitive: the armadillo version of a cost/benefit analysis!

    1. It was such a fun experience to follow along behind this little guy. I still can’t believe that he was so accepting of my presence. Maybe he’d not had enough experience of humans to be worried, or maybe I just was better than I realized at standing downwind of him. I did try to do that, since their sense of smell is so much sharper than their eyesight.

  10. That was all more than I ever knew about armadillos. They seem to be cool little animals and your description of this one being 100% locked in on digging for food reminded me of the one-mindedness Bentley gets when food is on his mind. From comments others have made, I guess they can be yard/garden pests much like our woodchucks and raccoons. Looking at one, athletic isn’t the first word that comes to mind.
    Very nice natural history study as well as some nice shots, Linda.

    1. Maybe this was not only more than you knew about the critters, but more than you ever wanted to know! They are neat, and they certainly have a strange appeal. They can be quite a challenge to track in the woods, since they’re both small and surprisingly fast. Often, the only evidence that they’re around are the holes left from their digging, or their remains on the side of the road.

      It’s occurred to me that I haven’t come across any mention of territorial disputes among them. The oddest thing is that the females always give birth to identical quadruplets. I don’t know if anyone’s figured that one out, but at minimum it probably has helped to keep the population stable.

        1. I recognized that song, but if you asked me if I’d ever heard The Clash, I would have said no. The video’s hilarious. I had to stop it a couple of times to check, but sure enough: the sheik was drinking Lone Star!

          1. I imagine there are a couple of their other songs that you probably heard but did not know who it was. They got a fair amount of radio play for a punk alternative group. I know next to nothing about regional beers so that detail was lost on me.

  11. It’s always nice when a wild critter allows us to share some up close time with it – assuming it’s in a relaxed mood. The armadillo is an odd looking creature; I don’t think I’ve ever seen a live one.

    My next post, if I ever get motivated, will also feature a varmint that most folks aren’t too keen to have hanging around their house…

    1. Odd, it is. I keep thinking of the VW-sized ones that early people are said to have lived in. I suppose the good news is that the shell wouldn’t dissolve in the rain. I suppose there were some disadvantages to a shell of a house, too, but I’d prefer not to think of those.

      My newest neighbors are a pair of young possums — I wonder if that’s what you’ll highlight? I’m going to have to deal with mine, but I’ve enjoyed them for a few days.

  12. How wonderful to see this sequence. I have never seen a live one although sadly I have seen quite a few dead ones on American roads. I’m glad yours made it across in one piece.

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