(Host) There’s a creature that can walk underground, walk on water, and evade enemies without any defense but a flexible shell. Commentator Ruth Page introduces us to the armadillo.
(Page) My first sight of an armadillo, years ago, was of a weird creature walking along the roadside in Florida paying no attention to the heavy traffic on the road. I’d seen pictures, so I knew what it was, and loved watching it waddle along.
Since then, of course, I’ve seen them a number of times, but I’ve always been attracted to them because they look like something from another era. Well, in fact they are; they’ve been on earth for millions of years despite lacking the usual defenses.
The armadillo has a long, narrow tongue that sucks up insects, earthworms, spiders and land snails. It’s a strong fellow, with long, sharp digging claws with which to make its burrows and tunnels.
It can’t bite in self-defense, its only teeth being quite small and well to the back of its mouth. It can’t shoot out repulsive chemicals or in fact do anything to defend itself from attack — except to roll up into a ball, which works quite well.
It wears armor: its heavy shell forms jointed parallel plates along the length of its back, so it can curl up with head and feet tucked under, leaving nothing for an attacker to grab. Armadillos in the U.S. have nine bands of shell. Others are found from Argentina northward with three to six of the bony plates.
The creature is heavier than water but sometimes has to cross a waterway. So it holds its breath for up to six minutes and walks along the ground underwater. If it wants to cross a large pond or wide stream, it can inflate its stomach and intestines to make a sort of life jacket and paddle across the water. An armadillo can detect the smell of food underground and dig it out speedily; some people still call them “grave-diggers,” because it used to be said they sometimes dug up human remains; but that tale has been disproven.
The heavy shell seems not to be an inconvenience in mating, and just one embryo always produces four identical offspring, a talent I don’t envy. The embryo can remain dormant in the mother for as long as 14 months, until mom decides the weather and habitat seem promising.
John James Audubon and John Bachman saw the first U.S. armadillos in Texas in 1849, but now they’re found in many southern states and as far away as Colorado. There is speculation that as the earth continues warming they may soon move north. Armadillos in New England? I hope not. Such warmth would probably mean we’d lose our beautiful furred northern creatures like wolves and moose, to say nothing of our gorgeous and productive maple trees.
But it won’t be the armadillos’ fault; it’ll be ours.
This is Ruth Page, admiring another of Earth’s goofy-looking creatures that has evolved elaborate arrangements for survival and reproduction, the armadillo.