Thursday, June 22, 2017

Close Encounter of the Armadillo Kind

June 21, 2017. I was summoned by an announcement that there were some armadillos on the front patio. When I got there, I could see two. One was snuffling in the leaf litter for food.

The other gave me the only opportunity for a head shot.

I’ve had the opportunity to watch a couple of armadillos in the wild on a few occasions. On one occasion, I watched on burrow under a layer of pine needles in search of food. When it emerged from one pile of pine needles, it immediately burrowing into another pile. 

As I watched these armadillos, I became aware of a third and then a forth. They were challenging to photograph. They were like little perpetual motion machines with their heads down as they searched for food.

I was afraid that I’d scare them off, so I circled around quietly and approached the other end of the patio. They were scampering back and forth across the patio, concentrating so intently on foraging that they seemed unaware of my presence and worked their way along the patio until…

a couple arrived at my feet. Even then they appeared unaware of my presence. Another one ran right up to my feet and seemed puzzled when it encountered an object in its path.

They worked there way around the corner, heads buried in the grass and leaf litter. Finally, when they ran out of promising foraging, they…

scampered off into the woods. It was an enchanting encounter. They seemed like such little free spirits. 

I was surprised that I didn’t scare them. Then I wondered about their eyesight and did some reading. Turns out that they don’t have the greatest eyesight and use hearing and smell to locate food. It certainly wasn’t clear that they were using their hearing and sense of smell to warn them of potential danger in running right up to my feet. I nudged one gently with my foot. It made the strangest noise, a combination of grunt and a strangling sound, as it scampered a few feet away and stopped, seemingly bewildered. Apparently they don’t have many natural predators.

Armadillos have been moving north in Georgia. The map in the reference below shows their range as being limited to the southern third of the state. They reached our county, Walton County, about two-thirds up the state in the last few years. We saw the first one – an adult = on our property at the north end of the county, last year. This is the first time we’ve seen youngsters.
Armadillos are unique in usually producing litters of four identical young of the same sex. 

While they are cute, armadillos may be infected with Mycobacterium leprae, the bacterium that causes leprosy. In fact, M. leprae can’t be grown in artificial media and was cultivated in the footpads of the nine-banded armadillo (Dasypus novemcinctus) that have a lower body temperature that is favored by the organism. The risk of contracting leprosy from armadillos is low because 95% of the population is not susceptible to leprosy. However, there is a small risk of contracting the disease from handling infected armadillos. A good rule-of-thumb, common to encounters with any wildlife, is to stay safe and enjoy them from a distance.

- University of Georgia Museum of Natural History: Nine-banded Armadillo (Dasypus novemcinctus) 
- Sharma R, Singh P, Loughry W, Lockhart J, Inman W, Duthie MS, et al. Zoonotic Leprosy in the Southeastern United States. Emerg Infect Dis. 2015;21(12):2127-2134.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Calycanthus floridus (Eastern Sweetshrub)

March 2nd - .  Eastern Sweetshrub (Calycanthus floridus) are among the earliest plants to flower.  At Fort Yargo State Park, shrubs grow in two areas on east-facing slopes above the reservoir. Shrubs are quite small, ranging from two-to-six feet tall. 

The first location is south of the Fishing Area, in an area that receives early morning sun. Shrubs in the southernmost location bloom first.

I spotted the first buds on March 2nd, and the first flowers on March 27th. Flowers don’t have the ‘traditional’ petals and sepals; the maroon structures are called tepals.

The early flowers in this area, that have some sun exposure, have a brownish tone.

Flowers in more shaded areas in this southern location are pink. The tepals on these flowers are flat and thin, like ribbons.

Shrubs also grow in a shaded area north of the Fishing Area.

The tepals on flowers in this location are more fleshy and a deeper maroon color.

Soon after the earliest plants had bloomed, I was on the lookout for signs of developing seed capsules I did spot a couple, but these didn’t develop any further. I haven’t found any more developing this year.

In 2015, however, several capsules developed to maturity.

The capsules continued to swell, and…

reach their final size by November, and then…

matured to a brown color. These may persist on shrubs through winter until spring, when they fall. 

- Native and Naturalized Plants of the Carolinas and Georgia: Calycanthus floridus