The other night while I was calling my cats in for the evening (my husband calls it "cat calling"), I heard something scratching around in the leaves under the trees just inside the woods. It was dark and I had my spotlight (a flashlight just doesn't give enough light out here), so I went in search of what animal might be making the noise. I thought it was probably an opossum because I had seen a 'possum rooting around in the dead leaves in the same spot from which this sound was coming. I know it's pretty stupid to go out in the pitch dark with only a spotlight and no defense except a walking stick in a county where wildcats and cougars have been sighted and where coyotes and "wolf-dogs" roam (or so I've been told, but I've only seen tracks in the mud and not the animal; my husband did see a wolf-dog run through our property several years ago), but I wanted to see what it was. I finally saw it under the trees rooting around in the ground and forest debris. It was gray and about the same size as that 'possum I saw a couple of weeks ago (about the size of a large, domestic cat). But something about it just didn't look like a 'possum. For one thing, it kept its head down mighty low and under the leaves. I've never seen a 'possum do that. So, I very carefully, slowly, and quietly walked nearer until I was about 30 feet from it and could get a good look at it. It was an armadillo! I don't like armadillos. They are forever digging into and under everything. They do have cute faces, though--better than that mean, rat-looking opossum face.
Armadillos are related to sloths and anteaters, according to the National Geographic website. They eat insects, snakes, small animals like lizards and mice, bird eggs, and sometimes carrion--even armadillo carrion. (Blyech!) Apparently the nine-banded armadillo is the only armadillo in the U.S., but I'd not lay a wager to that effect. Armadillos are mammals, insect eaters, prolific diggers, give birth to 4 same-sex young (developing from one egg and sharing one placenta) around July, and have low metabolic rates. When a female armadillo is under stress, they can "delay implantation" of their fertilized egg for up to two years; which results in surprise, "virgin births" and helps a single female colonize new areas. They like warm climates and sometimes cold weather can wipe out a whole population in an area. Supposedly they will not stay in areas where the soil is hard to dig, which makes me wonder why they're on my property, which is mostly clay. However, my little acres are quickly becoming "fire-ant heaven" with so many hills I can't even count them anymore, so maybe the armadillo is coming for the ants. If that's so, I'll hang out the welcome sign for them! Armadillos have long, sticky tongues like an anteater, and only a few teeth (molars) in the back of their mouths. Their teeth have no enamel, which makes no sense to me at all. They also love to swim, and my property is on the banks of the Locust Fork River, so they probably feel quite at home here.
It will be interesting to see how my little spot on this planet changes with these new "squatters." I suppose I'll have to be very wary of any holes they will dig in the ground. I've fallen so many times in the past few years, that I'm becoming quite phobic about it. (Once I broke off a front tooth--on Pascha morning no less--and had to have veneers on them, sprained my ankle, and recently I broke my elbow falling up in the poultry yard. I'm 60 years old now, and I just can't afford illness and accidents like I used to; I just don't heal as well or as quickly as I used to.) I'll try to remember to grab my camera when I go outside so that maybe I can catch a picture of the little fellow. They come out early morning and after dark, so that might prove difficult. I'm usually outside at that time, though, so the difficulties will be in remembering to get the camera and then getting close enough to actually get something on "film"! (Or would that be "on pixels" since it's a digital camera??)
Life just gets "curiouser and curiouser."