02 July 2004


I lived the first twenty-six years of my life in Michigan, followed by five in Arizona and now sixteen in Texas. Some things were the same in these three states, but many—including climate, geography, flora, and fauna—were different. I’m blessed to have lived in such different environments. If I never live anywhere else, and I probably won’t, I can say that I experienced three distinct regions of the United States: the Great Lakes, the desert Southwest, and the Southern Great Plains.

One of the animals I never saw until I came to Texas in 1988, and which seems to be identified with Texas in people’s minds, is the nine-banded armadillo (Dasypus novemcinctus). According to my Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Mammals (1980), this is “the only North American mammal armored with heavy, bony plates.” The armadillo is a little tank. When threatened, it curls into a ball, too large to be eaten and too hard to be bitten into. Who says evolution isn’t ingenious?

The field guide contains this bit of lore: “The Spanish conquistadors first encountered this strange creature and named it the ‘little man in armor.’ It spends most waking hours digging for food and building burrows, grunting almost constantly.” The map shows a range from West Texas northward into Nebraska and Missouri and eastward to the Atlantic coast, with all but the southernmost tip of Florida covered. While I’ve never touched an armadillo or been close to a living one, I see them flattened on highways quite often. The other day, while returning home from an errand, I narrowly missed either an armadillo or an opossum.

The field guide says that, “For such a clumsy-looking animal it is surprisingly swift. It can swim short distances, gulping air to inflate its intestines for increased buoyancy, and can cross small streams by walking underwater on the stream bed.” And then, disappointingly, there is this: “Its meat tastes somewhat like pork, and its decorative shell is used to make bowls or baskets.” Who would eat such a cute little critter?

No comments: