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.


Joy Window said...

Wonderful! I've only seen one dead one (on Cumberland Island).

JSK said...

Sadly, we see them mainly as roadkill too. Although I have seen a few live ones from a distance when I've been out riding.
It was nice to have this close-up encounter.

Joy Window said...

Mine was on a walking path in the middle of the island. It seemed quite young (small) and didn't look injured in any way. The "plates" looked soft and flexible. I was told they come out mostly at night, so it's surprising yours were in the day.

JSK said...

It's interesting that I haven't seen them at night, but I'm not out driving roads at night that much.
All of my sightings - six in all - have been during the day. In each case, except this one, they were foraging for food near the shoulder of the road. Two of the sightings were in undeveloped land between houses. The others were along roads away from houses. As long as there is good foraging and they aren't harassed, they don't seem to care.