I faced my death again

Twas little more than a year ago when I faced my death at the hands of a marauding armadillo.  Anguish rested in the deadlight of its eyes.  The scars from that encounter have never healed.  To this day I tremor at the thought of The Beast and how close I came to finding my end in that dark morning hour.

Since then I have witnessed the monsters ravaging gardens and greenery throughout the area in search of buried souls on which to dine, yet I’ve been unable to overcome the fright that keeps me from standing in their presence.

But the universe has a way of making us face our fear despite our best laid plans.  And so, at the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge two weeks ago, I again stood on the precipice of horror, only this time it was in the light of day and no shadows could hide me from the ogre.

It began innocently enough: while I walked the Heron Flats Trail, a swamp rabbit scrambled for cover as I approached.  Something else remained, though, something viciously uprooting plants and sending wads of dirt flying through the air.  I trembled at the sight of it.  I felt I was reliving a nightmare.

A nine-banded armadillo (Dasypus novemcinctus) digging in the ground (2009_12_13_044474)

I cowered on the opposite side of the clearing hoping to go unnoticed.  Still the behemoth approached, moving closer, sneaking betwixt and between plants that shielded it from direct view.

I needn’t see the whole of the specter to recognize the danger moving toward me, however.  Yes, we’d met before, this devil and I, and standing in the open left me no corners to duck behind, no trees to climb, no houses in which to seek shelter.  Nay, I knew even then that I must face the demon head-on lest it attack me from behind as I ran away.

A nine-banded armadillo (Dasypus novemcinctus) digging in the ground (2009_12_13_044482)

I hunkered against thicket, my breathing shallow, my heart slamming against my chest.  A tear scoured my cheek.  Already I wept, afraid of the destruction taking shape before me.  The terror of terrors left a swath of devastation as it approached, tufts of grass thrown with little effort, wads of soil streaking through the sky, wildflower stems dismembered and left for dead.  I knew I would be next.

A nine-banded armadillo (Dasypus novemcinctus) with its face in the ground (2009_12_13_044466)

Then I sneezed.  An unexpected sneeze, an uncontrolled declaration of my presence and position.  And in response the leviathan stood upright, its deadly front talons held together like Death’s own scythe, carnage still clinging to the face that just moments before had devoured yet another life.

A nine-banded armadillo (Dasypus novemcinctus) sniffing the air (2009_12_13_044494)

I cried out.  Tears streamed down my face as I begged for mercy.  My quaking rattled me from head to toe.  I stared into the beasts eyes and it stared into mine.

In that moment I faced my death again.

A nine-banded armadillo (Dasypus novemcinctus) walking through brush (2009_12_13_044510)

Much to my surprise, the grave digger did not leap through the air and rip me into bite-sized tasty morsels.  On the contrary, it returned to its search for prey, its digging and heaving, its unburying of that which was buried.

A nine-banded armadillo (Dasypus novemcinctus) with its nose in the ground (2009_12_13_044519)

When finally it pushed its face into the earth to suck life from one more creature, I knew it was my chance.  I crawled away on all fours, scampering like a whipped dog, always looking over my shoulder to see if The Beast pursued me.

I reached my car and scrambled for the keys.  Clawing at the door, fumbling with the handle, finally making my way inside, I slumped into the seat and wallowed in abject fear.  The vehicle lurched with my shaking.

I don’t remember how long I stowed myself away in that locked car, glancing out the window, expecting to see The Beast coming toward me.  Easily it could topple the vehicle, rip away its metal sheath, drag me from its protection and back to the trail where it would devour my soul.  All I remember is the grip of dread, the inability to function, the want for a quick end.

— — — — — — — — — —


[1] All photos are of an adult nine-banded armadillo (Dasypus novemcinctus).

[2] Like the entry linked to at the beginning of this story, this post is meant in jest.  Armadillos are docile creatures.  As I mentioned in the comments on my entry from 2008, the only threat they pose is to your landscaping (though attempting to touch or handle one can be problematic as they can do damage with their claws, exceptionally powerful tools used for digging at high speed through surface material).

[3] I said in the cold snake post that this was the friendliest armadillo I’d ever met.  That’s true.  When the armadillo finally came to the edge of the trail, it nuzzled my foot aside so it could dig where I was standing.  Unfortunately its position rested inside the minimum focusing distance of the 400mm lens I was using.  That lens requires at least 1.8 meters/5.9 feet to focus on a subject.  With the armadillo at my feet, the end of the lens would have to be at eye level and the camera itself would have to be well above my head in order to get a photograph.  (Because of its nearness, I chose not to move around too much at that point lest I frighten the animal.)

[4] Though I really wanted clear photos of the critter, it never entered the trail.  Instead, it remained in the tall flora alongside the path.  Since the wildlife refuge is not meant for people but instead is meant for the security and health of native plants and animals, leaving the trail never occurred to me as an option.  (In my opinion, being at a refuge is being a guest in someone else’s home—namely that of plants and animals—hence as a guest I should have as little an impact as possible on the goings on.)  Also, my non-interference rule with nature kept me from trying to force the animal into the open.  It was a gift to see it, to watch it, to have it pushing me out of the way so it could feed, so it would have violated all I hold dear about nature for me to be rude and try to bend its behavior to my will.

[5] Armadillos are in fact covered by bony armor (more accurately, a layer of bone just below the skin).  This makes them difficult prey for other animals.

[6] Armadillos can move at surprising speeds when frightened, they can swim quite expertly, and they can even walk underwater for up to six minutes.  Another tactic armadillos will use to escape threats is digging a quick burrow, a process that happens so rapidly that predators have difficulty interfering with or stopping the escape.  It also leaves the armadillo’s tail moving about in the open while the critter digs, something that might serve as a diversion.  Note this individual lost a good chunk of its tail:

A nine-banded armadillo (Dasypus novemcinctus) missing most of its tail (2009_12_13_044502)

That probably happened while it focused on digging and its pursuer tried to stop it.  If you follow the first link in this post, you can see how long their tail can be compared to their body size, so the individual here lost quite a bit of material before making good its escape.

[7] Despite looking like a giant roly-poly (or pill bug or doodle bug or whatever you like to call woodlice in the family Armadillidiidae [note the family name!]), most armadillos can’t roll into a ball for protection.  Only two of the twenty or so known species can do that: the southern three-banded armadillo (Tolypeutes matacus) and the Brazilian three-banded armadillo (Tolypeutes tricinctus), the latter of which likes to wait until it’s touched before it slams its armor shut (thought to be done in hope of frightening the attacking predator).  The ability to roll into a ball is limited in all other species by the number of bony plates they have.

10 thoughts on “I faced my death again”

  1. I thought I might be leaving armadillos behind when I moved north, but they are just as numerous in northern Arkansas as they were in Texas. Dillers are otherworldly in both appearance and behavior, though I must admit there are occasions when I’d like to send them to another world. An armadillo can turn a well-mulched garden bed into a scattered and tilled garden bed much faster than I can do the mulching.

    Great shots of the critter.

    1. Thank you for the hearty laugh, Marvin! Yes, you’re absolutely right: armadillos can ravage a garden or a lawn in less time than it takes us to start the lawnmower. Most people dislike them for that reason (so imagine the hoopla in Texas when the species was made the state’s official small mammal!). But their earth moving aside, they are delightful and alien and fascinating.

      I’ve seen they’re expanding northward and eastward at a higher rate than originally thought. I’ve been surprised to see reports from Florida and Georgia as well, so Arkansas really shouldn’t surprise me…but it does. I guess they’re serious about inhabiting North America and they’re busy making it happen.

      1. If I remember correctly armadillos weren’t supposed to be able to expand their range this far north because they cannot regulate their body temperature as well as most mammals. However, during the winter up here, armadillos alter their feeding habits. On cold nights, they remain in their burrows and feed more during the day. I suppose day-feeding makes them more subject to predation, but since they’re mainly preyed upon by automobiles, I doubt that day-feeding has a significant effect on the armadillo population.

        I suppose colder temperatures will eventually limit the armadillos northward expansion, but I have no idea where that limit is.

        1. I really need to do some research on this, Marvin. You’re right about them feeding during the day when it gets cool–that much I’ve seen–but I also know they’ll feed during the day when threats are limited. Here in Dallas they only come out at night, but at the wildlife refuges I’ve seen them out in daylight almost every time, even in summer. And I’m also curious about how far north they can expand–something gardeners and landscapers will want to know as well, I’m sure!

  2. They’re not nearly so funny when they are on your own turf.

    Three summers ago, we dispatched 22 armadillos and stopped counting. Subsequent years still find the creatures rooting up the garden, but in fewer numbers. My fear was the ones that tunneled under the house, the barn, the tractor shed. Left to multiply, they would finally undermine us into a giant morass of their tunneling. Legend has it that they carry Hansen’s disease, but I have not personally known anyone who contracted leprosy from an armadillo.

    1. Hi, Nell. Thanks for visiting!

      I’m sorry to hear you killed so many armadillos. They don’t really pose a threat to structures–only landscaping. And they’re beneficial by eating arthropods and serving as prey for other animals. My parents have a rural farm as well but don’t consider it their own turf; they share it with the wildlife since they know we’re not leaving a lot of room for the original inhabitants.

      The “legend” about Hansen’s disease and armadillos is interesting. Statistically, 95% of humans are naturally immune to the disease, so the 5% of nine-banded armadillos who carry it really don’t pose that much of a threat. Besides, it’s most readily spread through nasal discharge, so you should be pretty safe as long as you don’t borrow an armadillo’s hankie.

      Again, thanks for visiting. Have a great 2010!

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