Friday, May 14, 2010

ARMADILLOS

In Texas you often see armadillos, or at least you see pictures of them.  And sometimes you see them upside-down and dead beside the road after they get hit by a car.  You might not see real, live armadillos unless you are out at night when they come out for look for food.  There are some armadillos that come into Aunt Cheryl's yard and dig little holes at night.  Gabe and I could smell the armadillos, and Aunt Cheryl showed Mom the holes that they dug, but we did not see the armadillos themselves.

In Spanish, armadillo means "little armored one."  This is a good word for armadillos because they have sort of leathery armor made out of bone, and they wear it all the time.  Armadillos are mammals, just like dogs or humans.  Their closest relatives are anteaters and sloths.  All the world's armadillos live in North or South America.  There are about 20 kinds of armadillos, but the only kind that lives in the United States is the nine-banded armadillo.

This kind of armadillo used to live mostly in Texas and Louisiana, but now it is starting to live in other places, too.  Some armadillos moved east to South Carolina and Florida, and others moved north.  There are now armadillos in Missouri and also in Illinois and Indiana and even in southern Ontario.  But probably the armadillos won't go much farther north because they have a lower body temperature than a lot of mammals do, so it's hard for them to keep warm in the winter.

Armadillos really like to dig.  They dig dens and burrows, and they also dig to find food like grubs and ants and other insects.  People don't like to have armadillos come in their yards because the armadillos tear up the flower beds and eat the flowers.  Another thing that armadillos like to eat is dead animals.  So in some ways, armadillos and dogs are similar because they both like to dig and eat dead animals.  But of course dogs are much cuter and cuddlier than armadillos.

When armadillos need to cross some water, they just hold their breath and wade in and start walking under water.  They can hold their breath for 6 minutes, which is enough time to get across a stream or something like that.  If they have to cross a big bunch of water, they fill up their stomachs and intestines with air, and then they just kind of float across.  After they get to the other side, they have to let all the air out again, but this might take a few hours.

People have tried keeping armadillos in their houses, but they do not make very good pets.  They can be housebroken, but they are smelly, and also they like to sleep during the day and then get up at night and rummage around in the trash cans and make a bunch of noise.

You can eat armadillos, and some people in South America do this.  I read that the meat tastes like pork, so I think it would be quite yummy.  During the Great Depression, some people who were really poor had to eat armadillos, and they called them "Hoover dogs" because they were mad at President Hoover.

Besides eating armadillos, you can also make all kinds of weird stuff out of them, such as purses and musical instruments.  Or you can just stuff them and have them sitting around.  This seems kind of weird to me, but I am just reporting what I learned during my extensive, in-depth research.

Oh, but here's something really interesting about nine-banded armadillos.  When they have baby armadillos -- which are called "pups," even though they don't look anything like dogs -- they have four of them at a time.  And the four are all made from the same egg that divided, so they are not just littermates, they are quadruplets with all the same genes and everything.

So because of this funny thing about armadillos, scientists like to study them.  And they especially like to study a disease called leprosy in armadillos, because there are almost no other animals besides humans that can get leprosy.  And since there are four identical armadillos born every time, all together, the scientists can try to figure out how to maybe make a vaccine someday to keep people from getting leprosy.

Mom thinks armadillos are kind of cute, but she hopes that we don't get any of them in our yard because she does not want them digging holes there.  I told her not to worry because if an armadillo comes in the yard, we dogs will catch it and eat it.  Yum!

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