If you live in Liberty, Long or Tattnall county, you have probably seen one of my cousins.
I live in rural Tattnall County, but I have cousins all over the southeastern United States. We seldom have a family reunion because we cannot seem to make it across the highways without getting killed. You see, I am an armadillo! I know each of you reading this do not think very much of me, but I want to tell you about myself. Much of the information about myself is recorded in Georgia Outdoors.
I am called the nine-banded armadillo and am the only one that lives in the United States. There are two other kinds that live in South America. One is the pink fairy, which gets only 5 or 6 inches long. The giant armadillo may be 59 inches long and weigh up to 130 pounds. My average length is only 30 inches. Now, aren’t you glad that I am the only one living here?
I am a placental mammal having a leather armor shell. Armadillo in Spanish means “little armored one.” The Aztecs call me azotochti, which means “turtle-rabbit.” The top of my brownish body is covered with a boney armor, but the underside of me is covered with soft skin and fur. I have big eyes but very poor vision. My cylindrical ears look funny and are quite big, and my hearing is excellent. My face is long-snout-like. My long tail is tapered and covered completely with bony rings. I leave my sign in the dirt as I travel. I have clawed toes on my hind feet and three to five toes with heavy digging claws on my fore feet. I have 32 peg–like teeth. My armor provides a lot of protection from other predators, but my main defense is fleeing or digging to safety. My legs are stout and very short, but can move very quickly. If I happen to be in water, I must inflate my stomach and intestines with air, which doubles their size. Then, I can stay under water for as much as six minutes, which allows me to swim across small narrow bodies of water. I am a prolific digger with very sharp claws used for digging food such as grubs, ants or termites and to dig my tunnel where I sleep about 16 hours a day.
I enjoy leaving my tunnel about dark and travelling around the yard I live in during the night and very early morning while most of you humans are sleeping. I live under this Love couple’s front porch right now. I know I am safe there because they cannot crawl under it as it is close to the ground. I do not like very cold weather.
During the winter, I may get out during the hottest part of the day to feed.
I heard the Love lady telling the story about one of my cousins that lived near the pump house in Walthourville. It seemed that my cousin had burrowed him a very nice hole under the utility house that was right beside the water pump and tank. The house had a cement floor. He dug so much dirt from it that they were afraid the house was going to collapse. That man and woman and three children hunted my cousin armadillo all the time and were always fussing about him. The man was a Hinesville policeman and worked the night shift. One night they heard Sugar, the big dog, barking at something. They all went to investigate and found my cousin outside his tunnel. The woman grabbed the shovel and the children grabbed the hoes. They fought with that bad boy for more than an hour. He had the sharpest claws.
Finally, after much sweating and hard work, they managed to get him corralled into a large, wire rabbit cage. With all of them helping, they managed to get the pen loaded into the back of their pickup. The woman put a large concrete block on the top of it, and they could hardly wait for the man to come home in the morning. They had a surprise to show him. There would be no more tunneling under the utility house. When morning came, they all ran outside to proudly show off their catch from the night before. They were surprised! My armadillo cousin had managed to get out of that rabbit pen and the back of the truck, which also had the tailgate up.
The policeman thought his family had made up a large tale to tell him, but they had told him the truth. The woman said she was totally worn out from fighting with that strong animal with the fierce claws like a sharp knife!
When the lady lived in Allenhurst on Jefferson Street, she was not bothered as much with my cousins. That was because of the fenced-in yard, and the fence was below the ground. But once in a while, one would get in the yard. That same little aggravating dog lived there also. One night my cousin was just minding his own business rooting around in the yard and already had many holes in it when the dog began barking constantly. That mean woman came out with her big stick and found him. He was near the gate so she opened it and finally forced him outside. He began running and then stopped when she got near him. He snorted at her and she got scared that he was going to attack her. She went back inside the yard!
I do not recall the exact time that we crossed the Florida line and came up to Georgia to live. Heck, there were too many tourists down there. I recall hearing a story told by Margie that in 1963, when she was living with her family on the old Watford Place outside of Ludowici, one late summer evening her boyfriend came to see her and described an unusual dead animal by the road as he came to her house. Margie listened and remembered studying the continent of South America and immediately recognized the roadkill as being an armadillo. Going to the scene of the roadkill, she identified it as one. That was the first time, but surely not the last, that these people would see some of our family.
Oh, yeah — we do have love lives. I have one “husband,” but he chooses to have several “wives.” I give birth to four identical quadruplets about eight months after mating. My babies are born with soft leathery skin, which harden within a few weeks. They are fully formed with their eyes open and are walking in just a few hours after birth. They accompany me on my forage for food in just a few weeks. In four months, they are self-sufficient and get kicked out of the burrow. I do not like another adult living in my burrow, as I am a solitary animal!
This is a warning to you: It was announced April 27, 2011, that leprosy, or Hansen’s disease, is caused by handling of or eating armadillos. The scientists had been working on this theory for many years and finally had all the proof they needed to make this announcement. About one-third of all new cases in Texas and Louisiana — where people hunt, skin and eat us — were caused by the leprosy bacteria we carry. This is especially true if you have a cut or scratch on you and get the blood on it and if you eat the flesh, even though many claim it tastes as good as pork. Each year, almost 250 people in the United States get leprosy, which begins as lesions on the body accompanied with loss of sensation of the nerves in and under the skin. Early detection is necessary to cure it by taking a combination of three antibiotics for about two years. If not treated they will suffer lifelong nerve damage as a result. About 20 percent of our armadillo population carries the disease. Leprosy joins other infectious diseases that are known to jump from animals to humans such as flu, HIV and SARS. Armadillos are the only non-human animals known to harbor the infection. So, please, I beg you to take precautions and let my family alone!
(A July 20, 2015, news report said that there have already been nine cases of leprosy in Florida this year. They think they are all from the armadillos. They warn people not to get close to any of them as they can spit on you and infect you with leprosy. If you live-trap them, be especially careful!)
I heard Margie telling Gene that she saw two ways they could use to get rid of me and all my cousins living on their farm. One was a 12-pound bag of pellets made from coyote urine that costs almost $100. These are sprinkled around in the yard, but if it rains more has to be put out. Now, we are scared of coyotes, and if we think this bad boy is around, we will hit the road and leave if we are able to get across!
The other thing she told him about was an electronic high-frequency noisemaker that you just plug in and select the animal’s ears you want to hurt. We cannot stand the piercing noise from one of these and will have to move on. They also sell for around $100 if you do not find them on sale. I certainly hope that mean woman does not decide to buy either, as I enjoy living on her nice farm. It is bad enough for me trying to run from her when she gets the golf club after me.
I have told you my story and all about me, so you may decide to let my cousins stay on your place rent-free. But knowing humans as I do, you probably still do not like me!
Editor’s note: Much of this column ran in a previous edition of the Coastal Courier.