Educating the world about Texas one Yankee at at time.

Educating the world about Texas one Yankee at a time.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Nature's tanks

Those up-armored raccoons you’ve been seeing around your neighborhood aren’t raccoons.

They’re armadillos.

If you’re new to Texas, please accept this native Texan’s personal, warm welcome to the greatest state in the union and consider this your first lesson in recognizing and understanding our native Texas fauna.

First, the armadillo lying in the road flat as a flapjack was not born that way. The ‘dillo, like the Earth, is not flat. They are near-sighted, however, which is why they’ve earned the name Texas speed bump.

Second, they are not the hybrid offspring of Bradley armored vehicles and sewer rats, despite their appearance, but they are closely related to sloths and anteaters.

Third, they love flowerbeds and gardens.

My friend Chris Haug got a real education in the nature of these funny looking critters my father called “poor man’s pig.”

Chris had a really big ‘dillo (pronounced “dillah” if you’re from Texas) coming to visit his yard in the nocturnal hours. He tried spooking the thing and the Family cocker spaniel tried to run it off.

The dog’s venture was exciting, if unsuccessful.

Apparently, when the dog went to greet the ‘dillo, the ‘dillo stood up to greet the dog.

Chris never said if Molly needed therapy after that but he did say he was ready to lose his own mind. His yard, he said, looked like golfers had been through it, leaving divots everywhere.

I contacted Gil Eckrich, outreach coordinator at the Natural Resource Management Branch on Fort Hood to find out how to handle a nearsighted, slow-moving, grubbivorous mini-tank rooting around in the petunias at oh-gosh-thirty in the middle of the night.

Gil said great horned owls are known to eat armadillos. He said he watched one crack a ‘dillo open one night. Short of encouraging owls to hang out in the backyard, a stout fence stuck about 12-14 inches into the ground can help keep ‘dillos out, but if the animal is determined enough, it might dig right under it anyway.

I searched for armadillos on the Internet and came across a Michigan State University site ( which recommended using smell to ward them off.

“Simply make the areas they dig in smell bad to the armadillo,” it said. “Armadillos have sensitive noses.…Anything with a strong, noxious odor can help evict an armadillo from a den. Mothballs have been used successfully in the past, and some armadillos do not like the smell of pine needles or pine mulch. Placing mothballs around the areas you most want to protect can keep pesky burrowers away.”

This Web site made me think: why in the heck would anyone in Michigan know anything about armadillos? They don’t range much further north than Kansas and parts of Missouri.

The author, Joshua Nixon, holds a Ph.D in zoology from MSU and currently lives in Minneapolis, Minn.

“Despite my longstanding interest in armadillos, I have never studied them professionally,” he wrote. “My own research has focused on the circadian control of behavior in rodents.”

I wondered if Dr. Nixon’s methods of armadillo eviction work, especially since he’s probably not had too many encounters with the animals.

In the meantime, Chris’ armadillo problem was solved. As I was putting the finishing touches on this story, he told me he and his wife, Diana, found the ‘dillo mashed flat on their neighborhood street. It had been run over by a car.

The problem was gone, but Chris seemed a little sad when he told me that. I think he kind of grew accustomed to his armored visitor.

First printed in The Fort Hood Sentinel, 2008.

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