Wednesday, September 06, 2006


Central Illinois isn't exactly known for its wildlife. Ok, I see many deer, a few fox, lots of coyotes, coons, and possum. But armadillo? The folks out west can appreciate this creature, but this is corn country, after all. And yet there is hope. I humbly submit this column from the Journal-Star:

"Move over, Asian carp: Peoria, beware the march of the armadillo.
That sounds more ominous than reality. Armadillos could arrive here permanently within a decade, but they're less a danger than a nuisance.
And, like the Asian carp, there's no stopping them. The armadillo's insurgence into Illinois is part of long-range movement that started long ago near the bottom of the globe.
"They've been moving north naturally," says Lynn Robbins, a biology professor and armadillo expert at Missouri State University.
An armadillo is the size of a large house cat, weighing up to 17 pounds. The mammals have sharp claws, long snouts and hard-shelled backs of bone.
Long native to South America, armadillos eventually pushed through central America and Mexico before stopping just north of the Rio Grande by the early 19th century. One reason for the lull might have been the abundance of natural prey in Texas, such as cougars, that scared off armadillos - the smart ones, at least.
Also, American Indians used armadillos for food and their shells. But by the mid-1800s, white settlers had pushed most Indians out of Texas, thus allowing armadillos to progress northward again, Robbins says.
Ever since, the critters have crept north and east. They've long had a foothold in Gulf Coast states, but they've even pushed into Nebraska, Kansas and Missouri.
Southern Illinois has hosted the creatures for several years. They've maneuvered as far north as Pike County, near Quincy.
Their survival in cold-winter states is remarkable. Armadillos don't hibernate, so in harsh weather they seek warmth and food (grubs and insects) under dense leaf cover in wooded areas, Robbins says.
Within a decade, armadillos could be in central Illinois, Robbins says. They might even be able to spread as far north as New York City. Over time, natural selection might favor hardier armadillos that can better withstand cold-winter states.
Don't worry about armadillo attacks: Even with their claws, they prefer to flee rather than fight. But as they forage for insects, they tunnel and terrorize lawns.
"They dig like mad," Robbins says.
It's hard to keep them away. Some folks try to ward them off with moth balls, while others sink wire fences a foot into the ground.
You can try to catch them, but they're quick, as Robbins and his students have learned.
"They're good open-field runners," Robbins says.
On the rare times Robbins has been able to snatch up an armadillo, he's never been hurt.
"If you pick them up, they'll poop on you," Robbins says.
That's a lackluster defense mechanism. So is their habit of leaping three feet straight up when scared. That tactic works well to startle predators, but it turns them into roadkill when spooked by approaching cars.
"It's hard to survive when they hit the bottom of an undercarriage," Robbins says.
And though armadillos are a food source in South America, that idea hasn't seemed to have caught on in the States.
"I've had some students (cook armadillos) for something different to do, but they report it's not very good," Robbins says. "(Armadillos) haven't developed a cult following, like possum belly."
Possum belly?


moor-rambler said...

Once again, the biology of Illinois is both fascinating and baffling... makes me wonder why I didn't pay more attention in Ms Miles' class....

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