Home with the Armadillos

If it weren’t for the Alamo, bluebonnets, longhorn steers, and Willie Nelson, I’ve no doubt the lowly, nine-banded armadillo would trundle to the top of the Texas totems list.

It’s a strange one, this tank-like creature named for nine parallel scutes neatly tucked between two larger shoulder and hip scutes. It’s also the only armadillo species in North America, having migrated fairly recently from south of the Rio Grande.

Whatever outsiders think of the creature, it’s been granted status as the official state small mammal of Texas, and everyone from dry cleaning establishments to bars seem eager to cash in on its popularity.

Austin’s beloved and just slightly weird Armadillo World Headquarters may be gone, but Gary P. Nunn still brings a tear to the eye of displaced Texans everywhere with his plaintive longing to be “Home with the Armadillo,” and more school districts than you might imagine have adopted the animal as a mascot.

Still, drivers on Texas highways sometimes suspect the only armadillos left in the state are dead ones. Most armadillo sightings involve unfortunate creatures who’ve met truly calamitous ends. You can see them everywhere — tipped onto their backs with feet splayed heavenward, tumbled into ditches, or smeared across the concrete.

One reason they’re so often killed along highways is their strange “startle reflex.”  They’ll sometimes turn and run when they sense danger, but just as often they’ll use their powerful muscles to launch themselves straight up, into the air.

Animal predators can find the unexpected behavior so surprising they stop in their tracks, giving the armadillo a chance to scuttle off to safety. Unfortunately, jumping into the air in front of a Ford F-150 isn’t so effective, and another armadillo bites the dust.

They’re better at crossing rivers than highways. Burrowers by nature, they’ve developed an ability to hold their breath for minutes at a time while face-deep in dirt. Confronted by a stream, an armadillo simply takes a deep breath and walks across the bottom. If a river’s too wide for the creature to ford by walking, it fills its intestines with air and starts swimming, having become its own personal flotation device.

Away from the highways, finding a live armadillo is easier than you’d think. Their preference for a diet of ants, beetles, grubs, and spiders means they gravitate toward gardens and lawns, and they’re fond of roaming wooded areas filled with moisture and decay.

Armadillo stalking can be great fun. Their hearing and sense of smell are highly developed, but their eyesight is poor. If you happen upon one browsing for dinner and remain very, very quiet, you can walk up to it from behind, reach down, and grab it at the base of its tail.

What’s next is up to you. Catch-and-release is one option. Another is taking it home for your own dinner.  During the Great Depression, East Texans frequently ate the creatures they called “Hoover hogs” — a reference to the President they blamed for the Depression and a nod to the armadillo’s pork-like flavor.

Over the years, armadillo chili has been a favorite, and at Apelt’s Armadillo farm in Comfort, Texas, you could have armadillo barbeque, sold from this little stone building at the side of the road.

Charles Apelt, a German immigrant who came to this country in the late 1800s, didn’t begin by cooking armadillo. Instead, his background in wicker furniture-making and basketry, combined with an unexpected new-world experience, launched a unique and remarkable Texas business.

One day, while walking about his farm, a strange little animal sprang up and began to hop away. Mr. Apelt picked up a stone and with excellent aim hit the animal’s head. Otherwise, the plated armor would have turned the missile aside, like the armor on a battleship.
When he gathered up his game he surveyed it with wonder. When he went out to tack that hide to the barn in some sort of fashion, the hot sun had dried it until it began to curl up. He picked it up and instinctively he said, “Basket.” Then he fastened the end of the tail to the head and made a handle… As it dried he shaped it with his hand, and lo, the first armadillo shell basket that the world ever knew became a reality.

After perfecting a way to preserve the hides, Apelt opened his factory in 1898 and sold 40,000 baskets in the first six years. Plain baskets started at $2.50, while fancier versions sold for $4 and up.

Human creativity being what it is, the Apelts soon began innovating. Customers could purchase fringed or unfringed floor lamps, table lamps, bed lamps and wall fixtures – all made from armadillo shells. As production peaked in the 1920s, fifty hunters were employed to supply the critters, and at least a cook or two was hired to turn all that meat into barbeque.

As demand for their novelty grew, the Apelts supplemented the supply of armadillos provided by hunters by actually “farming” the creatures in an elaborate series of concrete burrows and tunnels built into their front yard. Not all became baskets — many were sold to zoos, medical research facilities and private individuals seeking an unusual pet.

The family owned the business for seven decades. After Charles’ death, his second wife Martha took it over until her death. When daughter Ruth Dowdy assumed control in 1947, the operation was moved to Salado, Texas, but it returned to Comfort in 1951, 

At that point, Apelt’s daughter-in law Kathryn took over, continuing the traditions of the farm and producing the same baskets and shades that had made it famous, shipping them to shops and individual customers world-wide.

This wonderful vintage advertising card shows a display of Apelt products, with this snippet of text on the back.

Published by Chas. Apelt, Wholesale and Retail dealer in Original Armadillo Baskets, Colored Souvenir Postals, Comfort, Texas. Its shell or armor is fashioned into pretty and novel baskets, suitable for cut flowers and hanging baskets. The shells are also lined on the inside with bright colored silk, making very beautiful work baskets for the use of the ladies.

Sybil Sutherland of Kerrville remembers her aunt, Vida Lowrance, working for the Apelts.

She would line the armadillo baskets with bright colored satin, the kind of colors you don’t usually see anywhere else. Lots of kids around here would go out and catch armadillos and sell them for a quarter apiece to the farm, and put them in tow sacks. They caught them by the thousands! I went out with them sometimes, too, with a boy named Paul Harbin. Even though he used a crutch, he was usually ahead of us all.”

Clyde Beaver remembers being one of the kids who hunted them, and the need for finesse.

You had to be careful not to pull them too hard by the tail, or you’d yank it off,” he said. “If they got down into a hole, you’d have to just pull on them gently, and get them out little by little.

Just as an aside, it’s worth noting that, had the Apelt Family started their business in the Pleistocene era, they might have been able to expand their offerings even farther.

The Gylptodon, one of the biggest ancient armadillos and an ancestor of our Texas cutie, originated in South America but moved northward, perhaps as far as Texas.  Like the nine-banded armadillo, it was well-armored, with a dome-shaped body, a helmet-like head, and bony rings around its tail.

Glyptodons survived well into early historical times, going extinct about 10,000 years ago, Huge and slow-moving, they probably were hunted to extinction by early humans, who no doubt favored them not only for food but also for shelter.  Evidence exists that early South American natives sheltered from snow and rain under Glyptodon shells — shells roughly the size of a Volkswagen Beetle.

Today, cottage industries based on nine-banded armadillos have become extinct as the Glyptodon, and the Apelts’ Armadillo Farm is due for more changes. Several owners have held the property since the business closed in 1971, but thanks to antique dealer Harriet Gorman of Comfort, Texas,  and her late husband Bill, the house and its outbuildings have been brought back to life.

The old Armadillo Display Room (where Charles Apelt is shown sitting, above) has become a three-room cottage, and served as a home for Harriet during two years of the restoration process.

The newest addition to the property, a Texas State Historical Marker, was sponsored by Walter Apelt, Charles’ grandson. Conveniently placed for inspection by the antiquers and vacationers who frequent the area, it provides a brief introduction to the complex and interesting story.

Tonight, the glyptodons are gone. The hunters with their dogs have disappeared into the darkness; the basket-shapers and lamp-makers, seamstresses and cooks have faded into the hills.

Soon, the restoration of the house will be complete. The museum’s doors will open. Passers-by noticing the sign will stop for photographs and ponder what they cannot understand. In the little stone house by the road, barbeque will be replaced by antiques and mementos of Hill Country life — the pungent, smoky taste of meat exchanged for tokens of good taste.

Amid these implacable changes, the armadillo still roams.  Burrowing in peace along the moonlit banks of the Guadalupe, foraging amidst the sweet, bending grasses, rooting up bits of history embedded into the banks of its ancestors’ creeks, it murmurs to itself as it passes.

Perhaps it remembers. Perhaps not. Disappearing into the damp, moonlight-soaked earth, it leaves behind only the faintest tracing of life along the trails of the night — the whisper of the armadillo.

Comments are welcome. To leave a comment, please click below.

99 thoughts on “Home with the Armadillos

    1. spookchristian,

      Yes, in some places people still eat them. It’s not as common as it was, because during the Depression some people had little choice. On the other hand, some people enjoy them, just as some will eat alligator or other things that don’t show up on most restaurants’ menus.

      Linda

  1. You are amazing! my mouth was agape during at least half of this story! 40,000 baskets! goodness!

    yes, I’ve always enjoyed standing totally still when I see an armadillo, and often it will pass within a few feet.. after it passes, I usually tag along behind – they’re so funny!

    thanks for another amazing post!
    z

    1. Zeebra,

      I’ve known about the Armadillo House since about 1990. When it was pointed out to me, it was in terrible disrepair, and when I asked about its history, the response was something like, “Oh, they used to sell barbeque there.”

      Everytime I went back to the area, I’d end up driving past it, and when I saw the activity and obvious changes a couple of years ago, I got curious. This past Christmas I spent two days around Comfort and Bandera, and took the time before going to do a little research about the place. I was completely amazed, and made a point to stop and take photos.

      Like you, I enjoy my armadillo encounters. I usually only see a lone one – the are solitary creatures – but once I got to see a mama and a couple of her babies. Such fun!

      Linda

        1. If you ever see a Glyptodon and its babies, be sure and let me – and the Natural History Museum – know!

          We’ve got no tidal action at all. The range from high to low today is about a foot and a half, which is normal. My suspicion is that it’s the low pressure system to your east that’s spinning around and forcing the water ashore. That’s entirely too much action for it to be lunar, even with the new moon. I’ll take a better look later.

  2. Fascinating history. I had no idea!! I would be loathe to gather my veggies from the garden in an armadillo basket, but to each his own. I’m glad they are now “disappearing into the damp, moonlight-soaked earth…” (except for the part about slamming into a truck grill.)

    Lovely writing.

    1. Martha,

      My impression is that the baskets were meant to be sit-around-the-house curiosities rather than something you’d use, like a garden basket. Despite the natural curve, I’d suspect the connection between tail and mouth was fragile. Use as a sewing basket, or for floral displays, was probably more practical.

      Once I learned all this, it only made the armadillos even more amusing to me. Imagine – a sewing basket on the hoof!

      I appreciate your note about the writing, very much.

      Linda

  3. Our state small mammal is a pretty unusual little beastie in more ways than one. The armadillo genus Dasypus (of which nine banded armadillos are a member) reproduces by giving birth to identical quadruplets — four embryos originating from a single egg. They are the only mammals (and only genus of armadillos) known to do so.

    A word of caution. Armadillos are a presumed vector and natural reservoir for Hansen’s disease (leprosy) in Texas and Louisiana. Humans can acquire the disease by handling them, or eating their meat. (Leprosy was another disease, like measles, smallpox, bubonic plague, et. al., that did not exist in the New World until the coming of the Europeans in the 15th century.) They are also a natural reservoir of trypanosomiasis, which is a potentially fatal parasitic disease.

    Because of its nonviolent, nonaggressive behavior, the anti(Vietnam)war movement of the 1960’s and 1970’s used the armadillo as a (less well known) symbol of peace.

    Their startle response is why the most humane way to avoid killing the little rascals if you encounter one in the roadway is to drive completely around them (when it is possible to do so safely) rather than just try to avoid hitting them with the wheels.

    You should try submitting some of your posts, particularly this one, to a magazine like Texas Monthly, or Texas Highways.

    1. WOL,

      This is why I love the comment section – it’s a place to add things that don’t fit into the post, like those quadruple births. That was one of the most fascinating things I learned about them – along with the phrase “monozygotic polyembryony”.

      Actually, it’s that characteristic – identical offspring – that’s made them so useful in the study of leprosy. When the Apelts began farming the creatures, many were sent to research facilities and, in the end, what was learned from them may be the most valuable and enduring legacy of the Armadillo Farm.

      I don’t remember them being used as a symbol of peace, but a quick image search showed plenty of examples. The first time I remember seeing the armadillo used in advertising was, of course, the famous Lone Star beer ads.

      Your tip on avoiding them on the road is a good one. Strange that I’ve never seen a live one crossing the road – only the sad endings of the ones who didn’t make it.

      When my mother moved down here, it was her one great wish to see a live armadillo. We finally accomplished that, and as she stood there watching it amble of, she said, “My life is complete.”
      She may have been joking. Or not.

      Linda

    2. If you wrote an article playing up the visitability of the newly restored Apelt Armadillo Museum, Texas Highways might well accept it because the magazine is oriented toward travel and tourism. With Texas Monthly, on the other hand, you could get into the history, sociology, and general quirkiness of the phenomenon. Either way, I’d encourage you to go for it. Magazines usually want you to pitch a proposal rather than submit a largely finished article, so you could refer to this post in making your pitch.

      1. As I understand it, there’s still some time before everything will be in order – the shop open, and so on. I’d need to get back up there and arrange to talk with some folks – I wouldn’t want to submit anything based on internet sources, no matter how dependable they seem. I pulled the original title for this, too, and using it could help reshape the piece a bit. I need to think about all this.

        On the other hand, I did decide to go for this. By the time the class is over, who knows what challenges I’ll be up for?

  4. Hi Linda:

    It is sad to see how many of these animals were killed to satisfy the demand of people eager to transform a dead animal into a basket. It reminded me of the slaughter of thousands of buffaloes just for the sake of having fun in the wild west.

    In Panama “armados” were common. Now, they are almost extinct. I have never seen one alive in my neck of the woods.

    Bye,

    Omar.-

    1. Omar,

      Well, the Glyptodon may be extinct, but the nine-banded armadillo certainly isn’t. The Apelts’ baskets didn’t put a dent in the population, thanks in part to multiple births and the creature’s adaptability.

      There are a lot of pest-control people today who make their living partly by trying to get rid of the critters. Here’s a random page that shows the technique of trapping. Baiting doesn’t work – they have to be “herded” into captivity.

      Their ability to dig is terrific, and they do real damage not only to gardens and lawns, but sometimes to buildings, especially sheds, chicken coops and other smaller structures that end up with foundation problems because of their activity.

      The other interesting thing about the Apelt Farm is that they did “farm” the creatures. Many sets of armadillo quadruplets were sent off to research institutions, to aid in the study of leprosy treatment and prevention. And some percentage of their baskets were made from “home-grown” armadillos.

      Apart from providing income for the Apelts and barbeque for passersby, the project also provided income for the people who were trapping them. That was quite a benefit during the 20’s and 30’s, when times were hard for so many.

      Weep not for the nine-banded armadillo! They’re alive and well.

      Linda

  5. That’s a true entrepreneur. So, by the time Apelt met his first armadillo, he was already a basket maker? There’s ingenuity, combining what you know with what you have. In this case, an endless supply of armadillos. Interesting how the business evolved into other areas. My brother will love this story.

    I love Willie.

    1. Bella Rum,

      That’s right. Charles had been a supervisor at a wicker and basket-making factory, so it’s no surprise he looked at that drying, curved-up critter and thought, “Basket.” And that’s a perfect description of so much from our forebears’ lives. They were geniuses at combining what they knew with what they had. We should be so creative.

      Were you aware that Willie’s armadillo mascot was stolen from a concert venue in New York? He got it back, and didn’t press charges, although he had a couple of Willie-like things to say about it. Here’s a short news article about the goings-on.

      I love Willie, too. He’s going to be at the House of Blues in Houston in February and I was tempted to get tickets – but just tempted. I’ve seen him live, back in the day. That’ll do.

      Linda

      1. No, I didn’t know about Willie’s armadillo mishap. Poor armadillo. I’m glad he got it back. I remember one of Willie’s stories about one of his wives. He came home from drinking and carousing. When he woke, he found himself tied up in a sheet, and his wife was beating him with a broom. Of course, he was much younger then. When the interviewer said, “That’s awful. You don’t seem to be mad about it.” Willie said, “Well, I’m sure I deserved it.”

        1. Given what I know and what I’ve heard about Willie, I’m pretty sure he deserved it, too. I’ve been trying to remember who it was who said he wouldn’t ever travel on Willie’s bus again. Some musician. He said the contact high was too much to take.

          I still haven’t quite gotten over his decision to cut his hair…

          1. LOL The thing about Willie stories is that you know they’re true, and if they aren’t, you know they should be. I saw him talking about legalization on television last week.

    1. Julie,

      You’d be intrigued with the creature if I sent you one. You’d even enjoy it for a time. Then, you’d start getting irritated as it dug its way around your property and you had to figure out how to trap it. With our luck, it would find another armadillo, from who knows where, and before you knew what happened, you’d be up to your hips in an invasive species and in a whole lot of trouble.

      You don’t need more trouble! But I’m glad you enjoyed the post!

      Linda

  6. I didn’t know they were such peaceful creatures. Somehow I always envisioned that if I would meet one pointed nose to nose, he would snarl, feel threatened and possibly take a swiping bite. I didn’t know there was bar-be-cued armadillo either.

    Comfort and Salado are two small TX towns where my husband’s family have settled. When we go back, I’m making a mental note to keep a look out for these “products”.

    These creatures certainly inspire a bit of cultural romance. A few years ago a blogging friend in GA who had received a delightful smiling ceramic one as a white elephant gift, engaged several of us to host him, Andy the Armadillo. He made it from FL to TX, to New Zealand, Canada and Iowa. Here’s a link to one of his adventures.

    Very interesting post!

    1. Georgette,

      I didn’t realize you have roots in that area. You surely know the Armadillo house, then. It’s just west of Comfort on the north side of TX27.

      Armadillos aren’t biters, but they can do some damage with their claws. They’re terrifically strong and fast burrowers, and from what I’ve been told, their “burrowing motions” when held can leave some marks. I did find one great video of a Texas armadillo that shows the kinder, gentler side of the creature. Personally, I think they’re cute as can be.

      I remember Andy! I think I just had found your blog about the time that he made an appearance somewhere-or-other. You’re right about the cultural romance. I don’t know if it’s their prehistoric appearance, or the fact that they look like some sort of marvelous, mechanical toy, but they do appeal.

      Linda

  7. Thank you for yet another enlightening piece. I hope the State of Texas and, in this case, the armadillo population are grateful for your writing. Reading this, I wish I could hop in the car for a road trip.

    I, too, was unaware of their peaceful reputation. Fascinating.

    1. Hippie,

      Road trips are good. Texas is good. You should think about it. I’ll be your tour guide.

      Their peace-symbol reputation endures, and can be found adorning every sort of contemporary gewgaw, ilke this. Now that I think about it, I can just imagine someone decades go taking a look at one of the armadillo baskets and asking, “Where the heck did you get that gewgaw?”

      Of course, they can be a little more stylish, too, like this detail from a wonderful tee.

      Linda

  8. Neat post, so many interesting facts. They are starting to migrate up here to KC, some springs you will see one or two along side the road, and other springs you won’t see any. When traveling down to Joplin or Springfield, you see many squished along the highways. To us northerners, they still are an interesting oddity. I would like to see one alive though. I hear the farmers hate the damage that they do to property and lands.

    1. Homestead Ramblings,

      From what I’ve read, armadillos don’t do well in cold or dry. That’s why, as they began moving up into Texas from Mexico, they spread to the east, through Louisiana and the Gulf Coast states to Florida.
      They are moving north, but the cold’s a limiting factor. In warmer years they may make it up your direction, but then can’t survive a harsh winter.

      I’ve always thought they’re easiest to find in the fall. A single armadillo grubbing around in the leaves can sound like an army on the march. Once you hear the noise, all you have to do is look around for the movement.

      They can do a lot of damage – not only to farms, but also to lawns, golf courses and flower beds. There’s lots of information, like this little page that tells you what to look for.

      I thought the funniest “problem” listed there is that some people complain they keep them awake at night by rubbing their shells against the house!

      Linda

  9. Wow! I learned a lot. This was a tour de force about the lowly armadillo. We have not seen any in Eastern IA, yet. I do mean ‘yet’. Driving through near St. Louis, we saw several dead along the road. They will probably make it up here.

    The startle reflex was good for their survival prior to highway traffic. Now, it is a limiting factor on their species. National Geographic has a delightful photo of one in the act of the startle jump.
    http://on.natgeo.com/1aMGOhT

    Thanks for the very entertaining and informative post.

    PS: What would one look like with a coat of varnish? It might keep them dry on their underwater journeys. :-)

    1. Jim,

      That photo is an absolute classic! I laughed out loud when I saw it – in an encounter like that, I’m not sure who would be the most startled. I liked that it was tagged “flying armadillo”.

      After I said so easily to Homestead Ramblings that they were limited in their northward movement, I went looking and found this excellent scientific paper titled “Recent Northern Records of the Nine-Banded Armadillo”.

      The animal’s requirements of a minimum of 380 mm of annual precipitation and a maximum of nine freeze-days per year probably means you’re not going to have one in your back yard. The paper also notes a distinction between established colonies and individual “pioneers”. I presume the pioneers would be the ones in St. Louis and Joplin.

      You know, I’m just certain that the “secret formula” that Apelt used to preserve his critters probably involved some sort of shellac. The photos I’ve seen of the baskets all indicate a bit of a sheen. What a live one would think of that, I’m not sure. That Glyptodon would look pretty spiffy with a coat of varnish, though.

      Linda

      1. I agree that it is likely too cold here. The pioneers is a good term. Probably no settlers.

        I’m glad you liked the photo. It is one of my favorites. It is a deadly reflex when a car or pickup zooms over you.

        I am enjoying the vision of a Volkswagon sized Glyptodon all varnished and shiny.

        Thanks for the great comments.

  10. I was wondering what the farthest northern sighting is- StL?! I guess when someone told me they saw them in southern IL it wasn’t a joke!

    I hope to see a live one someday.

    1. Martha,

      I’m sure it wasn’t a joke. Take a look at the paper I linked in my comment to Jim, just above. I got curious myself, and found not only some references to far northern sightings, but also some information on how far they can realistically travel and/or set up colonies.

      See? There’s another reason to move south – armadillos. Get far enough south that they’re wreaking regular havoc on lawns, flower beds and such and there’s built-in work!

      Linda

  11. Oh, your post reminded me of my one trip to Texas in April 2011. I did see an armadillo while I was there. My watercolor sketch of it is here: http://rosemarywashington.wordpress.com/2011/04/01/texas-sketchbook/.

    I like to keep my eyes peeled for those yellow animal crossing road signs, but I don’t recall seeing one for armadillos. When I was driving along Hwy 1 south of San Francisco, I saw a road crossing sign for warthogs!! That was a new one.

    And speaking of road signs, we saw this in California: “FREEDOM Next Exit.” I told my husband who WOULDN’T want to get off here! I can imagine the same delight with Comfort, Texas. I imagine the sign now: “COMFORT Next Exit.”

    1. Rosemary,

      The armadillo in your sketchbook is perfect. Not only that, you managed to get nearly every one of the iconic images: bluebonnet, paintbrush, heron, shrimp, cowboy hat and — the Dr. Pepper logo!
      The prickly poppy is my favorite wildflower, I think. I found a whole field of them last year, and nearly died of happiness.

      I’ve seen armadillo crossing signs, but they’re usually in bars or antique shops. I’ve never seen one along the road. I can show you the best-ever-honest-to-god-for-real Texas road sign, though. It would be this one.

      As for Comfort, there actually are two signs you’d see. The first would say, “Comfort: Next Two Exits”, and the second would say, “Comfort: Next Exit”. You’d be right at home there. Several artists I know either have or have had their studios in the area.

      Linda

  12. Who have ever “thunk it” and then trumped the dillo into making money. Some folks are so creative. I don’t think that I could ever carry around something that looks so much like the real thing in a curled up position. I think dillos are cute and actually they are beneficial in some apects. One or two live in my yard and I have yet to see any damage. Great for getting grubs and other insects that need to be eradicated.

    Nice post Linda. Very informative and wonderfully written.

    1. Yvonne,

      Speaking of expressions, my mom used to say, “Who’d a thunk it?” It makes me laugh every time I hear it.

      I haven’t found any evidence one way or the other, but I wonder what kind of response the good Mr. Apelt got from his family when he first got his idea. Can’t you just imagine him wandering into the kitchen and saying, “Honey, I’ve got this terrific idea. We’re going to start catching armadillos and turn the back room into a basket factory…!”

      I’m with you. I think they’re cute, too – especially those little ears. Well, and the way they just waddle around as they hunt for insects. You’re right that they can be very beneficial if there are lots of insects around. If they don’t have to dig huge holes to get dinner, they can just clean up the garden or lawn and go on their way. If they move in under the shed, that can be something else, but even that isn’t the worst thing in the world if they’re just using it as a burrow.

      For your daily dose of “cute”, how about this little guy taking a bath?

      Linda

      1. Oh, that lil dillo. What a great video. Loved that one, Linda. I’d never thought to look on You Tube for those sorts of videos. I looked at maybe ten various ones. All so cute. Thank you for the link. ~yvonne

  13. Once again, Linda, your post leaves me speechless and fascinated. I lived in Texas for YEARS, but I never saw a live armadillo. Dead ones, sure, and preserved artifacts in museums, but never a real one. I had no idea of the history!

    They just pop up into the air? Wow, I didn’t know that — and probably would’ve been completely bewildered, had I seen it!

    Personally, they’re far from my favorite critter. They remind me of cockroaches for some reason, and those I certainly don’t like. While the baskets are clever, I’m not sure I could actually eat something like an armadillo!

    Thanks for educating me — and making me glad we don’t have ’em in Central Illinois, ha!

    1. Debbie,

      The good news is that you’re not going to have to live with them in Illinois – it’s way too cold for them there. I did have to laugh at your comparison with cockroaches. I’d far rather have armadillos than roaches!

      I’m not surprised you didn’t see a live one while you lived here. When I first came to Texas I didn’t see a live one for years. When I lived in the middle of Houston, they probably were roaming the bayous and parks, but the lawns weren’t very hospitable to them – too many chemicals applied to get rid of the insects they need to survive. And of course there was all that concrete. Once I got away from that, and started paying more attention to the natural world, there they were.

      I’ve known about armadillo chili and barbeque for years, and I’d be willing to eat that if I knew the chef. But I think I’ll skip the steak and go with the armadillo eggs!

      Linda

  14. Once again most of what I would say has been said by Jim already!

    This was fascinating, but there were two things that struck me most. First, I’d love a glyptodon shell to use as a permanent “tent” in the woods. Seems like it would be at least as good as any pup tent, and roomier than most of them.

    Also, I would have been willing to try armadillo barbecue until reading that they can carry leprosy and other horrible diseases. That really makes them less appealing to me!

    Do you write professionally? I agree with the person above who suggested you submit writing for commercial publication. You have a lovely way of bringing a reader all the way through a story.

    1. Melanie,

      I’ve thought of quite a few good uses for that shell, but pup tent had escaped me. My first thought was of those dog houses that are shaped like igloos. It seems as though it would do quite well for that.

      You really don’t need to worry about contracting a terrible disease from armadillo barbeque, unless you have a sloppy chef who doesn’t cook the meat thoroughly, or lets it sit out on the counter overnight.

      It is true that they can carry leprosy. In fact, the armadillo is the only natural host of the bacterium other than humans.

      On the other hand, the incidence of infection in this country is very, very low. Of the 150-200 cases diagnosed in the U.S. annually, only about 30-40 cases arise among Americans who haven’t traveled to areas of the world where the disease is prevalent. You can read more about it here if you’re interested.

      I first encountered leprosy when I was in Liberia. There was a Methodist leprosarium up the road – really a marvelous place. Even after being cured, some people couldn’t return to their villages because of others’ fears, so they stayed at Ganta. Here’s an old photo of two such men making chairs.

      And no, I don’t write professionally. I decided to start this blog to learn how to write – it seemed like writing was the best way to do it. I’m really pleased that you enjoy the stories!

      Linda

  15. I love this post — I have always thought armadillos are awfully cute. Yes, cute. (But then if you asked me to choose a Dustin Hoffman type to a Robert Redford type, then or now, I’d go with Hoffman.) I don’t think I could eat one I’d met personally and I’m sad to think of them on the roadside, the victim of another SUV. But it was such a journey as all your posts are, Linda. The info on the restaurant was fascinating and glyptodons? Who knew? Thanks for taking me out of my world and into yours!

    1. Jeanie,

      You’re not alone. I think they’re cute, too – especially the babies. And I hate seeing the results of unfortunate collisions between man and beast – but that’s true whether I come across a squirrel, a cat or a possum.

      As for eating a critter I’ve known personally, I’ve been there and done that, as the saying goes. In fact, a perfectly good pet rooster ended up on my plate in Liberia, through a chain of events that was understandable at the time, and that’s become more humorous through the years. (I told him to stop crowing at 3 a.m.)

      Weren’t those glyptodons something? There was a related species that looked very much the same, except there was a spiked “club” at the end of their tail that resembled a medieval weapon. Who knew, indeed?

      Linda

  16. Oh wow… what an interesting armadillo post! I have never seen an armadillo in my life, only in picture books. Hope I can see one before they become extinct. ;)

    But I’ve seen Willie Nelson … on TV. Just recently too, at The Grammys. I’m most amazed to see this 80 year-old still playing and singing, more alive than ever. Here’s an article from The Rolling Stone which describes the scene with the title “Nelson, Kristofferson and Haggard Resurrect the Highwaymen at Grammys” The video has been taken out but you can see it on Youtube.

    1. Arti,

      There’s not much chance of the armadillos going extinct, unless something happens that causes us all some problems. I hope you get to see one. You’d enjoy it. They’re really fun to watch as they go “grubbing around” for their food. Since they use their sense of smell to help them find food and have such poor eyesight, they go slowly, looking over the territory that’s just in front of them.

      Thanks for linking that clip from the Grammys. I really am glad to see Willie’s braids back. It just seems right. And it was wonderful to see Kristofferson again. He was such a part of the soundtrack of my life long before I knew anything about Willie. Here’s the rough chronology: Leadbelly, Paxton, Seeger, Ian and Sylvia, Lightfoot, Kristofferson. To quote someone near and dear to us, it was the best of times, it was the worst of times. ;)

      The best Kristofferson song ever? The one Janis made famous.

      Linda

  17. This has GOT to be among the top segues ever (how’s that for a “top” category?): “Just as an aside, it’s worth noting that, had the Apelt Family started their business in the Pleistocene era, they might have been able to expand their offerings even farther.”

    These stories of yours really must be collected into a volume that it’s possible to set out on a table and peruse from time to time. I do hope that’s in the offing. Not only would I love it, but I can think of people who would love to get it as a gift! Have you thought about putting out a small collection on ISSUU? That seems to be a great platform these days–“even” fancy art galleries in NYC use it!

    1. Susan,

      Once I came across The Glyptodon, he just had to be included. I was out at a local nature center a couple of weeks ago, and their prehistoric-creature-person never had heard of a Glyptodon. That made me even more intent on finding him a place.

      As for the rest… I will admit this. When I finished this piece, I thought, “I could divvy them up into categories. Texas. Family. Travel….” Maybe one day. There still are some of the best stories yet to be written, though, and I would want those included. So a little more time’s necessary. I’d never heard of ISSUU, and I was surprised to find a couple of publications I read in print on the site.

      We’ll see. In the meantime, I’ll keep perfecting my segues!

      Linda

  18. Dillo baskets? Some folks can be very enterprising. I don’t think I’d care to own one, though. The thought of having one sitting around the house doesn’t strike my fancy.

    I do think they’re cute and interesting critters.

    We’ve got the little rascals here in SC but I’ve yet to see a live one. =My first sighting was a body on the side of the road either going up to see Dad or coming back about 2 1/2 years ago. I’ve seen a few others that had had fateful encounters with vehicles since then. One was on a main thoroughfare just a few blocks from my house.

    I suspect I had a young one rooting around the yard last summer. There were some odd, tell tale disturbed spots out there for a few weeks. I spent a bit of time peering out the doors and windows after dark, to no avail.

    P.S. There’s a reason Willie sings, “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die.” He’s been smoke cured! lol

    1. Gué,

      Your reluctance to have the armadillo basket in your house reminds me of my mom’s refusal to have my dad’s mounted walleye in the house. I have no idea what happened to it, but for years it was out in the garage. It was a beauty, too – at least in the beginning.

      Your memories of the – unfortunate – armadillos reminds me of a certain rabbit. On TX35, somewhere around the Aransas Wildlife Refuge, the road crews once striped right over the top of a smooshed rabbit along the side of the road. That darned rabbit was there for a year or more – but even after it finally disintegrated, its “shadow” was still there in the paint. It may still be there, for all I know.

      In any event, that reminds me of a famous internet photo that popped up years ago, with the caption “It’s not my job”. You can see the photo here.

      You very well may have had an armadillo. I read the description of their diggings on a pest-control website, and they said multiple shallow or deeper holes, about 3″-6″ across, were sure signs of the critters. I suppose the good news is they want grubs, not geraniums!

      We all love Willie, don’t we? I was here. I still remember it fondly.

      Linda

  19. Oh my goodness! I guess I’m not into “natural” decor – ha! I feel the same way about antler furniture. Interesting, but not in my house :)

    But what a cool story! People are just so ingenious – I never cease to be amazed.

    1. Dana,

      Well, I guess you wouldn’t want my collection of birds’ nests for your bookshelves, then. What about a basket of rocks? Dried crepe myrtle seed pods? Oh. OK. ;)

      It is a wonderful story, isn’t it? Quite apart from the weirdness of the armadillo shell baskets, I love the fact that the family kept the business going for so many decades – everyone working together. Family businesses are dying out, too, and every time I find one whose products or services I need, I make it a point to patronize them rather than the various chains.

      I think it’s just great that the grandson was involved in getting the historical marker. That makes it even more special.

      Linda

      1. I do collect shells – but that is as natural as my apartment gets! And Boyfriend gets a rap on the knuckles if he approaches one that is still occupied. Living in the city, I’m not aware of the annoyances that armadillos pose – frankly, if I saw one I’d be rather honored (and absolutely surprised!)

        The illustration of armadillo baskets is curiously lovely, maybe less bizarre than the real thing, I’m thinking. Still, approve or not, the family’s business is all a part of history, not to be forgotten: either by us, or by the very unique armadillo.

  20. The article in your second link mentions that some people in east Texas called armadillos Hoover hogs because they blamed Herbert Hoover for the Great Depression. I’m reminded that during the same era the slender tree called Baccharis neglecta came to be known as poverty weed, Depression weed, New Deal weed, and Roosevelt weed, so the two consecutive presidents of different political parties both got their share of blame.

    1. Steve,

      Until I went looking for one of your photos of “Baccharis neglecta” to link, I didn’t realize what a wonderful collection you’ve established. It’s such a beautiful plant – not depressing at all.

      I had forgotten that one of its names was Roosevelt weed. Once you pointed it out, I had to smile. Flora and fauna both, nicknamed because of historical circumstance.

      Linda

      1. I’m always happy to introduce people to this “weed” that becomes so attractive every fall. The two that lined the street into my neighborhood unfortunately got cut down a few months ago, but there are plenty of others in the area and new ones are quick to spring up, just as they did on abandoned farms during the Depression.

  21. I do not know much about Armadillos, except that I have always been fascinated with their beautiful armor. And of course the connection about leprosy and Armadillos is pretty much well known.

    Your article fills in the little known facts (for me) and embellishes the information with the historical background of the baskets enterprise. American ingenuity was and is alive and well.

    “You should try submitting some of your posts, particularly this one, to a magazine like Texas Monthly, or Texas Highways.” I totally agree with the writer of this quote. I subscribed to Texas Highways for many years and used to enjoy the articles that made Texas come alive for me. A fascinating State.

    And a fascinating article.

    1. Maria,

      It took me just a while to identify the echo in my mind after I read your first sentence. “I do not know much about Armadillos” seemed as familiar as could be. Finally I found the source of the echo, in Eliot’s “Dry Salvages”, from his “Four Quartets”.

      “I do not know much about gods; but I think that the river
      Is a strong brown god – sullen, untamed and intractable,
      Patient to some degree, at first recognised as a frontier;
      Useful, untrustworthy, as a conveyor of commerce;
      Then only a problem confronting the builder of bridges…”

      With every apology to Eliot, I couldn’t help myself.

      “I do not know much about armadillos, but I think that the creature
      is an old, gray god – slow, untamed and implacable,
      Patient to a great degree, at first recognised as a nuisance,
      Useful, untrustworthy as a tiller of lawns;
      Then only a problem confronting the planter of gardens…”

      Thanks for giving me a laugh that will last all day long! And yes, American ingenuity is alive and well, although Chia pets hardly rival armadillo baskets for useful quirkiness.

      Texas is a wonderful state, with enough history and variety for a lifetime of stories. I’m glad you enjoyed this one!

      Linda

        1. I am SO glad you pointed me to this. I love those lines, and now I love them differently–as soon as I read them here, I saw an armadillo connection (look what you’ve done!), and then you provided one! Marvelous! Speaking of the 4 Quartets, a poetry pal noted an article the other day, an art review by John Ashbery, in which he made this observation: “Despite all his craft and scholarship, The Waste Land achieves its effect as a collage of hallucinatory, random fragments, ‘shored against my ruin.’ Their contiguity is all their meaning, and it is implied that from now on meaning will take into account the randomness and discontinuity of modern experience, that indeed meaning cannot be truthfully defined as anything else. Eliot’s succeeding poetry backs away from this unpleasant discovery, or at any rate it appears to, though Four Quartets may be just as purposefully chaotic beneath its skin of deliberateness. Yet the gulf had opened up, and art with any serious aspirations toward realism still has to take into account the fact that reality escapes laws of perspective and logic, and does not naturally take the form of a sonnet or a sonata.” I found that such an interesting observation. I hope sometime you’ll give us some of your own insights into the Four Quartets (or perhaps you’ve already done so?).

          1. I suppose in a sense I’ve already done so (tried to provide some insight) – or at least begun the process. My intent and approach are somewhat different than the critics’, though. I had to laugh – the first thing that popped to mind while reading Ashbery’s words was this remark from Flannery O’Connor in one of her letters: “Your criticism sounds to me as if you have read too many critical books and are too smart in an artificial, destructive, and very limited way.”
            That’s no criticism of Ashbery – only a response (albeit a visceral one.)

            What I do agree with is the statement that “reality…does not naturally take the form of a sonnet or a sonata.” Hence, the necessity of the artist’s work. As Durrell has Pursewarden say, the role of the writer is to “rework reality to show its significant side”.
            Sometimes we get “The Wasteland”, sometimes “Four Quartets”. But of course it’s the personal reality of Eliot that changed between the two as much as the external world, and Eliot’s experience that provides the link between, for example, “The Wasteland” and “Burnt Norton.”

            My latest curiosity is the relationship between Eliot’s structure of the “Four Quartets” and Durrell’s “Alexandria Quartet”. I’ve never seen any connection drawn, but the two clearly were working within a similar framework – time and place as variables in the perception of reality. Gosh – wouldn’t that be a fantastic paper?!

  22. My, my, Linda, your talent for amazing me (and the rest of your loyal band) knows no bounds. Until reading this post, I only knew that armadillos existed. Now I could write a Wikipedia entry on them….

    1. Anne,

      Now you know how I felt when I followed you down the Fortingall Yew trail. By the time I finished, I’d invaded castles, indulged in some ancient customs and generally had a whee of a time. It’s one of several aspects of blogging I do enjoy – the ability to learn about so many wondrous things, both in the writing and the reading.

      I was going to draw some sort of amusing parallel between the snakes and the armadillos being driven from Ireland, but in the process I got waylaid by this quite interesting essay by Thomas Rain Crowe titled, “There Are No Snakes in Ireland.” It’s fascinating, and right up your alley, I should think.

      When I read his bio, I was even more sure you might enjoy the essay. It includes this little tidbit:

      “In 1998 his books The Laugharne Poems (which was written at the Dylan Thomas Boat House in Laugharne, Wales, with the permission of the Welsh government) was published in Wales, his ground-breaking anthology of contemporary Celtic language poets Writing The Wind: A Celtic Resurgence (The New Celtic Poetry), and his first volume of translations of the poems of the 14th century Persian poet Hafiz, In Wineseller’s Street, were released.”

      Linda

  23. I can state absolutely as a fact — I am not a fan of armadillos — they are the ruination of my lawn on a yearly basis — especially after I managing to get it at the best levels of each year. They’ve dug up shrubs as well. :-(

    Wishing you a Happy Sunday and remainder of the week.

    1. Becca,

      Oh, my goodness. You’re allowed to be not-at-all-fond of armadillos, especially if you’ve been battling them on a yearly basis. I’ve read about the damage they do, but the folks I know who are engaged in critter wars are contending with deer, possums and raccoons.

      It would be one thing for them to leave some holes in the lawn. Taking out shrubs and flower beds is very poor form. I’ll just wish you better luck in getting rid of the danged things this year!

      And a happy Sunday to you, too. It does look like there’s a little more nastiness across Tx/La in the coming week. Be careful.

      Linda

  24. You always manage to educate me with your posts, Linda. I knew almost nothing about armadillos and zilch about the making of baskets out of their shells. Made me shudder to see them. They sound rather like gentle and shy creatures that would make quiet pets, but clearly not all your readers have that experience!

    1. nikkipolani,

      One of the great blessings of your rose-growing life is that armadillos don’t want to move into your neighborhood. They wouldn’t like the weather, and probably would find a shortage of tasty treats.

      They do tend toward the gentle-and-shy end of the spectrum, but that may be partly because they’re so darned near-sighted. They just wander around, nose to ground, looking for their next meal. As a pet, they’d be quiet for sure, but I think I’d stick with Wimsey and the crew. Much more fun!

      Linda

  25. What a great piece, and you’ve given me an idea for one of 3 more natural history articles I’m commissioned to write this year.

    Armadillos are urban in N. La. where I grew up. Believe it or not, my daddy cooked one on the gas grill, so folks are shocked when I sheepishly admit that I’ve eaten armadillo. I found it tasted like turkey–not pork. It’s all dark meat, and since they are herbivores, it made sense. Now, I’ve got to cook a nutria, right?

    One more story. When my 2 oldest were wee ones, playing in the yard in Dulac, 3 baby armadillos were grazing under an oak tree in the front yard. David, 3, and very curious went closer. One baby ‘dillo ran right up the front of his legs, and you should’ve heard him scream. Happened so fast, he was more shocked than frightened. For several days afterward, we could look out in the yard and see the babes grazing. It was fascinating that they had no fear AND they were out in the daylight. I wondered why they didn’t know they were nocturnal creatures. Recently, my son Dan was complaining that his 2 young dogs had been digging in his backyard in Baton Rouge. One glance at his yard, and I knew it was armadillos, but the pups had already been disciplined for the armadillo antics!

    1. Bayou Woman,

      You know that children’s book you wrote? How about a follow-up or two? Both armadillos and nutria are interesting enough – and quirky enough – that they could provide great storylines. Maybe the otter could make some friends!

      Don’t be sheepish about eating armadillo. It’s just proof that your culinary horizons are broader than some folks. The lowly armadillo may never have the cachet of a crawfish, but then again, if we could get a couple of articles in Vanity Fair or Rolling Stone – well, you just never know. On the other hand, there are nutria recipes all over the interwebz. I just went browsing and saw several references to it tasting like rabbit. If people accepted it as food, it surely would help with the population explosion.

      That’s a great story about your kids and the baby armadillos. I’ve seen them foraging in daylight a time or two and wondered about it myself. Maybe they just were hungry, and it’s the armadillo version of our midnight raids on the refrigerator.

      I can’t find it right now, but I read that armadillos not only dig for grubs and such, they’ll return to the holes they’ve made to see if more insects have shown up. One trapper recommended leaving the holes while trying to capture the critter – it increases the chance it will come back. At first I thought that was crazy, but their sense of smell is supposed to be remarkably good – maybe it’s the scent of fresh earth that pulls them back.

      Hope all’s going well in IT land!

      Linda

  26. About 30 years ago, for some unknown reason, I became fascinated with armadillos and began building them out of clay. They were quite popular, but I didn’t tuck even one away for myself! Now I’m wishing I had. I forgot all about them until this great post of yours. I’m sure there are probably a few “Kayti Rasmussen armadillos”: gracing a garden or two At least the pottery version won’t be burrowing into a flower bed.

    1. Kayti,

      I’m not surprised your armadillos were popular. They’re associated with the southwest generally as well as Texas, they seem to be as appealing to adults as dinosaurs are to kids, and let’s face it – their shape is aesthetically pleasing.

      Probably the best use of the armadillo form I’ve ever seen was a purse. But the one I saw was made of fabric and straw. When I took a look on the internet to see if I could find something similar, I found this. Good grief! I had no idea until this very minute (well, ok – the last ten minutes) that such things existed.

      If you do a google search for armadillo purses, they’re all over the place. It appears they’re made closer to the border, or perhaps even in Mexico. In any event, the tradition of creativity with armadillos lives on. I could live with a basket, but I’m not sure about the purse.

      Linda

  27. A beautifully written exploration and I love the old pictures. Your research is amazing. I must say I’m finding the baskets pretty gruesome – along the same aesthetic as a fox stole complete with eyes. It’s fascinating how tastes change.

    Your post has resonances which immediately came to mind. The comical shooting in the air of the armadillo reminded me of a house mouse I was trying to corner once – it did exactly the same thing and escaped again, I was so surprised at it’s ingenuity that I stopped the war for a while. And the vision of all the armadillos squashed on the road made me think of all the badgers which litter our roads – actually there is someone close by who eats roadkill…not my cup of tea though!

    I must read some Eliot, I’ve been devouring contemporary poetry but am a bit scared it’ll be too dense and clever.

    And I was reminded that lots of our culture these days is of the more packaged variety – like the armadillo museum – interesting and wonderful as it may be. It’s like ‘Heritage Britain’ the trade mark, alerting us to our history in digestible chunks of bland. Oh dear, think I’m having a moment…

    I guess the explosion in the armadillo population could be used for protein in the diet of humans – maybe they’d eat less cows then :) We’re overrun with rabbits. A couple of years ago I had a lesson in skinning and butchering one which was shot on our land…with a view to shooting and eating them ourselves …I can still remember the sweet death smell which seemed to attach itself to me for hours . Two years later…nothings happened, the bunnies are multiplying and excavating our hedgerows. Sigh. Must get some gumption.

    1. thinkingcowgirl,

      Oh, thanks for bringing that image back! I had an aunt who wore one of those stoles. I remember being fascinated and repelled by it as a child. Thank goodness some styles change. I’ve got nothing against people in truly cold climates wearing fur – it’s practical and warm. But those stoles were meant only to accessorize. Better they’re gone.

      You couldn’t get me to eat roadkill of any kind. I suppose there are isntances where it would be perfectly fine, especially when someone who knows what they’re doing hits a deer and is able to process the meat right away. Still – when it comes to possum, raccoon, rabbit, and such, I prefer to see them as dinner for the buzzards.

      It’s taken me years to really cozy up to some of Eliot’s work. Here’s one tip, which probably sounds like heresy to some, but it’s worked for me. If you don’t understand something, or find yourself thinking, “Gack! This is impenetrable!”, just move on. There still are portions of the Four Quartets I ignore. On the other hand, some of my favorite passages now are ones I ignored five years ago.

      If all else fails, start with “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats”. How the same guy managed to produce that and “The Wasteland” is just an amazement to me, and somehow heartening.

      I went to a rabbit festival a couple of years ago, and ate rabbit a dozen ways. It was wonderful. It’s interesting that rabbits and armadillos both multiply in part because of multiple births. The armadillo generally has quadruplets, and that can build up the population pretty quickly.

      Linda

  28. People are pretty strange, Linda, in terms of what animal parts they will buy. Somehow, your article reminded me of a large Boa Constrictor skin hanging down from a shop in Gbarnga, Liberia and my ex-wife ending up with a pair of snakeskin shoes. Not sure whether the two were related. :)

    As for dead armadillos on the road, I bicycled across Texas and Louisiana on my North American trek. Other than the fact that biking across Texas can go on forever (I am surprised I am still not doing it), I was introduced to innumerable dead armadillos. There were more in Louisiana, however. Whether this was a matter of more armadillos or worse drivers, I don’t know. It may have been that the Louisiana Highway Department was more lax in removal. Translate didn’t.

    I also have a photo from a Florida newspaper of my brother preparing to eat an armadillo. I couldn’t find the photo. Marshall is a homeless man with a van and a bank account who happily travels between Florida and North Carolina with the migrating birds. He happens to be an accomplished cook. Don’t know how he prepared the armadillo.

    –Curt

    1. Curt,

      And here I am, after all my it’s-not-for-me about Burning Man, thinking, “Gosh. Wouldn’t it be cool for a Texas contingent to build a gigantic rainbow armadillo?” Maybe BM can burrow into a psyche as effectively as an armadillo into a fresh garden plot.

      My hunch is that there were more armadillos in Louisiana. Parts of Texas are just too dry for them, though they thrive in east Texas. I suppose it would depend on which route you took, but clearly they’re fewer in the Panhandle or Trans-Pecos.

      It sounds like Marshall isn’t so much homeless as at-home-in-a-different-way. I can’t help seeing a bit of a relationship between his van and the armadillo’s shell. If he’s traveling happily, that’s probably of more value than the van and bank account combined.

      I was sent a recipe for armadillo sauce piquant the other day. It’s almost identical to this one. If you’re ever in need of a way to cook up armadillo, you’re all set.

      I still remember with amusement having a meal in a Liberian village, enjoying it, and then finding out the meat was fruit bat. There was no way around the fact that the soup was good, so fruit bat went on my list of approved foods. I never could deal with the bugabugs, though. Maybe I just wasn’t hungry enough. ;)

      Linda

      1. First up, Linda, I have seen at least two armadillo mutant vehicles at Burning Man. :) I thought I had included a photo of one this year but couldn’t find it.

        You are absolutely right on the location of the armadillos. It was East Texas. Thanks for resolving that issue.

        Probably right on Marshall. Once he had all of the trappings. He is much happier without them.

        As for bug-a-bug, after they have been dried and aren’t so lively, their main quality is crunchy.

        Curt

  29. What an insightful post. I knew pretty much nil about armadillos – for obvious reasons. The opossum is a recent immigrant to our part of Canada. I recently heard about cougars returning to a high spot in the prairies called Cypress Hills after many, many years of absence. This shifting demographic fascinates me, as does your account of armadillo movement. Well, as you note, movement doesn’t always end well, but makes for a most interesting story. Travelogues will always be in season! Allen

    1. Allen,

      With creatures like the armadillo, whose requirements in terms of temperature and moisture are so specific, it’s especially interesting to track their movements. I’d never seen the words “settlers” and “pioneers” used in terms of animal movement until I wrote this post, but it certainly fits.

      I have a possum living somewhere around me. I run into it at night now and then, scuttling along the bushes. Their adaptiveness is remarkable, although the ability of other animals to adapt to urban life isn’t necessarily a positive – as with coyotes.

      Things do balance out, though. We had a surfeit of feral cats around here for a while. It wasn’t just that there were strays – there were colonies of cats. Then one night, I saw a coyote trotting right down the middle of the parking lot, about midnight. Other sightings were reported, and one day we realized there hadn’t been a stray cat spotted for weeks. I have my suspicions.

      At least the coyotes seem to have moved on.

      Linda

  30. What a wonderful history! I love learning via your stories. I just adore our armadillos, too — our “little armored ones”! The poor babies are so blind, they literally blunder across my boots as I hike, scrounging for grub. Sweet creatures — of course, I don’t play with them with my bare hands. :)

    1. FeyGirl,

      I’d be careful without gloves, too – not because of leprosy, but because of those claws. Somewhere, there’s an armadillo singing a version of Nancy Sinatra’s old song: “These Claws are Made for Digging!”

      My great hope is to someday see a litter of four, but I’m going to have to spend more time out in the country for that to happen. If you ever get a photo of quads, I’d love to see it!

      Linda

      1. Heh heh!! LOVE IT! I’ll be humming Nancy’s song for days now, thanks…. :)

        I’ve yet to see a litter, in all my hikes! I do have adorable photos of a troupe of baby opossums — wait till you see those sweet ones…

    1. sherri,

      I saw one when I was in Arkansas last fall, in the woods along a creek in the Ouchita muontains. I thought at the time he was a little misplaced, and perhaps ought to move it more southward. From what I’ve read, their high reproductive rate and adaptability means they can seem to flow like the tide. In a series of warm years they move northward. Then, when real winter shows up – well, that’s when the phrase “poor, little creatures” takes on some real meaning.

      But they are delightful, despite that unfortunate tendency to tear up gardens, flower beds and lawns.

      I had hoped for a spring trip up that way to see wildflowers, but time’s a passing, and winter’s hung on so long here I’m afraid I won’t be able to catch up with work in time. We’ll see.

      Linda

  31. The armadillo is one of the iconic critters of Texas, memories of which occupy a special niche in my head alongside the roadrunner, the horned lizard and the javelina. So far none of those has followed me home to North Carolina, though I worry that with a little push from global warming fire ants may show up in my yard someday soon. Hopefully the polar vortex will hold them at bay for another year.

    My perception of your small snuffling mobile fortress will forever be colored by Jim Franklin’s poster art. Much more than the mammal, Armadillo World Headquarters made an impression on me during my sojourn in Austin. The web page you linked is one of the best I have seen to recount the fabled history of that phenomenon. Combine Gary P. Nunn’s “London Homesick Blues” with Thomas Wolfe’s “You Can’t Go Home Again”, and you have a quick recipe for my present dilemma.

    1. Bogon,

      There really are some crazy critters here in the state — and not all of them two-legged. I’ve not had the pleasure of meeting a horned toad in the wild yet, but I’m hoping I will eventually. As for the fire ants, at least the Aggies have enough of a sense of humor to include some ant art on their site. I’m especially taken with Escher’s mobius strip with ants.

      It’s hard to imagine that so many young’uns never have heard of Armadillo World Headquarters. Or maybe it’s just hard to realize we’re getting so old. In any event, it was good times at a great place, in a very interesting era. For whatever reason, “London Homesick Blues” never fails to make me smile – and get the urge for a longneck.

      Linda

  32. Excellent post Linda – really. We lived in Texas a couple of times, and Terri and I have camped all over the south for years, so we have seen our share of armadillos – dead and alive. This is my kind of post: entertaining, informative, some interesting (and quirky) history and trivia, and even a bit of paleontology. BTW, the perfect addition to the post might be Robert Earl Keen’s song “The Armadillo Jackal” Check it out:

    ~James

    1. How it can be that I’ve not heard this song, I’m not sure. But I haven’t, until now. It’s a good one — to be expected, given the source. I like Keen almost as much as I like Lyle Lovett. You’ve probably heard this version of “That’s Right, You’re Not From Texas,” but if you haven’t, it’ll make you right happy.

      Even though I was raised in Iowa and still carry a good bit of the corn-fed life with me, I love Texas. I can’t imagine ever leaving. As a matter of fact, I don’t have to, since I have a little plot of land waiting for me. But that’s another tale, for another time.

      By the way: today is Willie Nelson’s birthday. He’s 83 — hard to believe he made it this far, all things considered. When we lose him, it’s going to get me the way losing Prince or David Bowie affected “the kids.”

      Thanks for stopping by, James. I’m glad you found something you enjoyed!

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