The “Facts” About Armadillos

Reader Contribution by Linda And Burt Crume
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My first awareness of armadillos involved family road trips from northeastern Oklahoma, where armadillos didn’t seem to exist 50-60 years ago, to the Texas Panhandle and eastern New Mexico, where armadillos did exist. The highways we traveled on our family trips were scattered with dead armadillos that had met their demise jumping bumper-height when scared by rapidly approaching automobiles.

Armadillo means “little armored thing” in Spanish. They originated in South America and 9,000-year-old records exist of recipes for the preparation and ingestion of these mammals. One recipe calls for roasting the armadillo in its shell. Modern researchers have tested the recipe, and it appears to be genuine. More modern recipes can be found on the internet, and Texans love the creature enough to have named it the state mammal, although I haven’t found the official state recipe (nor have I looked for it).

When I started this blog piece, I was certain that I knew much about armadillos. I knew that they dug multiple holes in my lawn and garden while they searched for grubs, worms and insects. I knew they were nocturnal and were rarely seen before dusk and after dawn. I knew they dug burrows for hiding during the day and to have a place to bear offspring. I knew that the litter was always of four same-sex creatures.

Another fact I “knew” was that the creature would jump into the air to confuse its enemy, and when it landed, it scampered to safety while its less-capable opponent was left in awe regarding the athleticism shown by the roly-poly creature (the auto was not around during the evolution of the armadillo, and the jump of the armadillo unfortunately has made it bumper height – depending on the size of the vehicle).

Other facts I knew with certainty were that they were also called Hoover Hogs because many people who survived the Great Depression had added these mammals to their survival diet as a means to find food when there was none. Also, most, but not all, people thought the animals were ugly, dirty, and carried many diseases, the most repugnant being the virus for Leprosy.

While reading and researching my “facts” to determine validity, I was surprised to learn that many of my facts weren’t necessarily true or agreed upon by experts from academia, agriculture, and businesses existing to control the human-animal interaction.

Experts and laymen make many claims about armadillos. In trying to separate the facts from the fiction that sometimes makes a good story, over the next few weeks, I’ll examine the items listed below to see if any of the facts I “know” about armadillos really are “facts”:

• Do armadillos carry the Leprosy virus and can they spread the disease to humans by spitting on them?
• Will they attack humans?
• Can they destroy buildings and other man-made structures?
• Can they cause serious damage to crops and landscaping?
• Should they either be relocated or destroyed?

Stay tuned!

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