Armadillos

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Published on: Mar. 2, 1997

Last revision: Oct. 26, 2010

constant whuff-whuff whuff sound as it sniffs and pokes into old diggings. When it digs, dirt flies out behind it, and its tail waves in a graceful curve.

In Missouri, armadillos are nocturnal in summer but shift their activity to daytime or evening in winter. I saw several on a sunny January afternoon when temperatures rose to the 50s.

Most were adults, but I also found two 5- to 6-pounders, possibly littermates. For a few minutes, they foraged together comically, two pink noses rummaging in the same hole. "When they're still young, they'll hang out together," says Kimberley Mackey, who studied the animals at Drury Mincy. "When they're older, they start going on their own."

The armadillo doesn't see well. Its hearing is better than its sight, but it often doesn't seem tuned in to humans approaching or talking. SMSU researchers think its sense of smell alerts it if the wind is right. Nevertheless, an armadillo may snuffle right to the feet of a human, realize something is odd, then simply change direction - or lope quickly away. Its leatherlike armor allows it to charge through brush and brambles without harm.

That armor is the intricately decorated skin of its head, back, sides and tail. Shoulder and haunch sections display a repeated small pattern, exquisitely detailed, and each band exhibits two rows of interlocking triangles. Younger adults are tan-gray with pink highlights; the oldest are gray.

There's more to admire than decoration, such as this amazing animal's two methods of crossing ponds and creeks. By swallowing air to inflate its stomach and intestines, it becomes buoyant and paddles on the surface. Or it sinks to the bottom and strolls across, postponing its next breath until it reaches the other side. Observers have reported underwater trips lasting six minutes.

And who wouldn't be impressed by the nine-banded's litters? The female releases only one ovum per year, but the embryo buds twice, producing genetically identical quadruplets, all males or all females, born with carapaces like soft pink leather.

Even more remarkable are the variable delays in pregnancies. After summer mating, implantation of the embryo in the uterine wall normally is delayed about 14 weeks. Gestation then takes four months, and pups

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