Tag Archives: nine-banded armadillo (Dasypus novemcinctus)

Finding joy in others

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

I stand on the patio wallowing in the morning’s cool temperatures with all the glee of a pig in mud.  After the warmest summer ever recorded in the United States, one thing Texas deserves is a reprieve (and rain, but that isn’t in the cards), hence the recent cool spell is a welcome thing indeed.


The sound is quite evident.  And approaching.  Then along the sidewalk I see a rather large nine-banded armadillo (Dasypus novemcinctus) approaching.  The drought has caused a dearth of insects, so armadillos have spent a great deal of time doing significant damage to gardens and landscaping.  I feel no surprise seeing this creature; they’ve been making regular appearances for months.

I watch as it leaves the sidewalk and begins its pillaging of the area around my patio, weaving through the shadows and bushes, stopping to dig with fervency, burying its head in search of morsels.  It mostly stays on the outside of the bushes, so I see little more than snapshots of it as it goes about its hunt for breakfast.

“Oh my goodness!”

It’s a woman’s voice, thick with a German accent.  One of my neighbors.  Standing nearby, watching.  I was so wrapped up with the armadillo that I missed her approach.

Her eyes are wide, her mouth agape.  She watches the animal with the fascination of someone who has just discovered cold fusion.

She sees me.

She begins asking questions.

I begin answering them.

She’s never seen an armadillo before.

She didn’t realize how big they could get.

She didn’t realize they had such enormous claws.  “On all four feet!” she adds.

She didn’t realize their tails were almost twice as long as their bodies and looked like armor-plated whips.

She didn’t realize they really were covered with bony armor, little tanks built by nature.

She didn’t realize they could dig so quickly and easily.  “They can dig a burrow faster than most people can catch them,” I explain, “literally disappearing right before your eyes.”

She didn’t realize how little they care about humans so long as you don’t bother them.

She snaps a few pictures with her cell phone.  She keeps glancing at her watch and murmuring about how she’s going to be late to work, but it’s obvious she doesn’t care about that, not really.

Her eyes remain large and interested.  She’s having an experience, a moment, and I both recognize it and appreciate it.

“We have nothing like this back home,” she says, then she giggles like a schoolgirl being told an awesome secret.

After perhaps five or six minutes, the armadillo finishes its raid in this area and scampers off in another direction.


It waddles along a different sidewalk and the woman watches with undisguised wonder, an ear-to-ear smile brightening her face.

She thanks me, says she really must be getting to work, thanks me again, and never moves or takes her eyes off the retreating armadillo until it vanishes behind a neighbor’s bushes.

She thanks me again, then finally turns and goes to her car.  It will take me some time to realize she walked almost a block following the armadillo—from a distance, of course—until she caught up to it outside my patio.

Her morning started with the joy of discovery.  And it was so genuine that I couldn’t help but catch a little of that joy from her.

— — — — — — — — — —

The photo is from a trip to the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge in December 2009.  Because I never had a clear view of the armadillo my neighbor and I watched, I didn’t get any photos of the critter.

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.

Cold snake

Last Friday before driving six hours to the Texas coast, I checked the weather forecast for the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge.  Saturday would be cool and cloudy.  Sunday would be sunny and comfortable, like a spring day if ever there was one.  FAIL!  The forecast couldn’t have been more wrong, even when revised during the day both Saturday and Sunday.  Dense fog and drizzle on Saturday?  It’ll clear.  NOT!  Sunny and beautiful Sunday?  NOT!  Unexpected dense fog and drizzle Sunday morning?  It’ll be gone by 9 AM.  NOT!  (I’ll add the fog rolled in thicker and heavier as the day wore on—both days!—though it thinned quickly as you moved inland.  Unfortunately, Aransas NWR is on the coast.)

I remember something about only fools predicting the weather in Texas.  Anyway…

Despite atmospheric setbacks, I knew I could still see marvelous creatures at the refuge, though clear views would be limited to nearby subjects as a gray wash would blanket everything else.  I also accepted that my hope of seeing amphibian or reptile residents had diminished to nothing given the temperature and lack of sunshine.  So much for seeing alligators again, I thought, much less a snake or frog or lizard.  Thankfully I was wrong on that count.

Along the back stretch of the Heron Flats Trail where it exits the woodlands and makes a brush-lined approach to the viewing blind, a swamp rabbit on the San Antonio Bay side of the clearing sat feeding against a backdrop of thicket.  I saw it from a distance as I exited the woods, a twitching shadow behind tall plants that shielded it from view.  In my best impersonation of silence, I measured each step, placed footfalls in the quietest of places, checked my breathing, held the camera gear firmly.  Again: FAIL!  The rabbit bolted into the underbrush before I even got close to it.  When I finally stood where it had been only moments before, I realized I had no chance for a photo given all the flora standing more than twice as tall as the bunny.  Oh well.

Then a bit of noise caught my attention.  Well, “a bit of noise” does it an injustice.  It sounded more like a miniature earth mover dredging up the planet’s crust just a few steps away.  Though I couldn’t see what made the noise, I could see various bits of foliage and stem being jostled about most violently.  I would soon find the friendliest armadillo I’d ever met.

But before I knew what it was, I knelt in the path and waited patiently for the loud creature to make an appearance.  Anything that busy and unconcerned for secrecy would most certainly want its picture taken, right?  Yet kneeling on the opposite side of the trail so as to be less of a threat afforded me a discovery that took me by surprise.

A rough green snake (Opheodrys aestivus) lying in a bit of autumnal debris (2009_12_13_044442)

Despite being less than an arm’s length away from it, this rough green snake (Opheodrys aestivus) never moved.  It went unnoticed at first because it lay unflinching at the edge of marsh greenery.  Little stays unnoticed by me, however, and as I knelt and waited, slowly my eyes drew down until they settled on this beautifully delicate reptile.  Then I thought, Oh, it’s not moving and it’s not warm at all.  I’m betting it’s dead.  I reached down to push away some of the detritus resting atop its head.  It flinched.

A rough green snake (Opheodrys aestivus) lying in a bit of autumnal debris (2009_12_13_044452)

No sunshine.  Temperatures too cool for it to warm its body.  A cold drizzle falling.  Why in the world is this snake out and about? I wondered.  I put my hand down next to its face and again it drew back, recoiled in a slow movement like fish swimming through cold molasses.

By this time I’d discovered the identify of the noise maker across the way.

A nine-banded armadillo (Dasypus novemcinctus) digging behind tall grass (2009_12_13_044434)

A hungry nine-banded armadillo (Dasypus novemcinctus) hunted with a devil-may-care attitude, not even worried when I sneezed (though it paused long enough to sniff the air and look about).  It had moved close enough to the trail for me to see it and identify it, though it remained busy digging in the dirt and snacking on whatever goodies it found.  Yet it continued moving ever in the direction of the clearing…and the snake.  With the reptile easy prey in the open, the armored mammal would no doubt find it and capture it and eat it.  Just one more tasty morsel.

A close-up of a rough green snake (Opheodrys aestivus) lying in autumnal debris (2009_12_13_044532)

Should I move it?  But if I do, where do I put it?  Why isn’t it in its winter hiding place?  What in tarnation do I do with an adult snake who’s too foolish to know the forecasters were wrong?  These thoughts ran through my mind as I looked at the snake, at the armadillo approaching the clearing, and back at the snake.  A few steps were all that separated the two.  If the armadillo crossed the trail, the snake would be toast.

Then I remembered my cardinal rule when visiting the non-anthropocentric world: Don’t interfere in the natural order of things.  I don’t mind helping a turtle cross a road since a road isn’t natural and most people are unforgiving when behind the wheel.  I don’t mind rescuing a wounded animal who’s been shot or hit by a car or snagged in left-behind fishing line.  I don’t mind being a loud-mouthed prick when it comes to stopping people from throwing rocks at birds or trying to hit a turtle with a stick.  But what I don’t like to do is interfere with nature when nature is doing its own thing.

Ultimately, and much to my own emotional detriment, I left the snake where I found it.  After spending a bit of time photographing the armadillo—and learning its more than amicable disposition—I went on my way.  A few hours later when I returned to walk the Heron Flats Trail again, the first thing I did was look for the snake.  And I found it, still alive, still where it had been.  The armadillo had long since vanished, of course.  Amazing how uplifted I felt to see something as simple as a silly snake who didn’t know when to get out of the cold.

I faced my death

5:50 A.M.  Already my headlights turned the corner toward home, my motored carriage whisking me onward with the morning’s sacrifice of coffee in hand.

Yet as I paused briefly at that turn onto my private drive, a shadowy movement upon the wall of a neighbor’s house caught my attention.

I stared through the darkness eager to see.

First impression: A leaf caught in the wind must be dancing before my headlights and casting a pale figure ahead of me.

Upon closer inspection, though, I realized the leaf would have to be suspended midway between the car and the wall in order to produce such a large shadow.

And that space was filled with empty concrete.

Whatever thing moved about in the darkness, it had to be large and it had to be right next to the wall.

So I zipped home—just down the block, mind you—and rushed inside, grabbed my camera and scampered back down the private roadway.  I wanted to know what creature lurked about.

It didn’t take long to find it.

Loud as though a devil-may-care attitude infested it, I quickly stumbled upon a beast ravaging these private gardens in search of food, and in the process it made so much noise that I feared it would wake the dead.

Looming in the dark and rummaging through freshly tilled soil the monster itself had overturned, I approached within a few steps of this nighttime ghoul.  Slow and steady I walked, and it ignored me so long as I made no abrupt movements.

And there it was, nose tucked into the earth freshly dug with its own clawed appendages, armored body bristling with the telltale hairs of a being both mammalian and terrestrial, ears alert and scanning for the slightest intrusion upon its dinnertime.

A juvenile nine-banded armadillo (Dasypus novemcinctus) rummaging in the earth (20081004_12967)

It made enough noise to wake the entire neighborhood, so I quickly set the flash to its lowest setting.

I was, after all, standing near the front door of a neighbor’s house.  It behooved me to be as inconspicuous as one can be while lurking about in the dark of predawn hours snapping photographs near the homes of other people.

All the while, and under my steady gaze, the monster continued ravaging the delicate landscaping, throwing dirt this way and that, nuzzling under the surface at each opportunity whilst tossing aside load after load of earth and ground cover.

A juvenile nine-banded armadillo (Dasypus novemcinctus) rummaging in the earth (20081004_12968)

Scarcely the size of an American football (excluding its serpentine tail, mind you), I still found myself fearing for my own life as this demon ravaged the ground looking for buried souls to steal.  My own trembling made photography difficult, yes, but I felt I must endure the savagery of the moment to prove to the world that such things do exist.

I stood my ground through unrelenting terror and watched as the invader moved about, lashing its prehensile appendage behind it like some eyed tentacle looking for prey.

A juvenile nine-banded armadillo (Dasypus novemcinctus) showing me its ass (20081004_12970)

And when a gasp escaped my lips, a sign of the harrowing ordeal with which I was faced, it—The Beast!—lifted its buttocks and mooned me.

A juvenile nine-banded armadillo (Dasypus novemcinctus) showing me its ass (20081004_12971)

How offensive!

But I was not deterred.  Not one bit!  I would stand my ground and face this devil until it retreated…or killed me.  Whichever came first seemed the logical approach.

Wretched tears of anguish scoured my cheeks as I witnessed this terrible assault.  I wondered then, even as I wonder now, if the psychological scars would ever heal, if the stabbing of my soul would ever be forgotten.

I doubt it…

And in my moment of distress, when finally I suspected I would be fodder for the cannons of this demon, I wept from desperation, a hushed escape of lamentation meant to relieve me of my panic.

But all it did was call the attention of the fiend itself.

A juvenile nine-banded armadillo (Dasypus novemcinctus) looking at me (20081004_12974)

The dead light of its eyes filled my own, blanketed me in the misery to come, washed over me like a tide of impending doom.

I didn’t flinch, didn’t move, didn’t budge.

Neither did the ogre besetting my neighborhood.

With its empty eyes glowing white in the light of the flash, it stared at me, met my scrutiny, looked into my being and scraped its soulless claws across my spirit’s flesh.

In that moment I faced my death.

Perhaps we reached an understanding; perhaps we reached an impasse.  In either case, the vile fiend turned and walked across the sidewalk, choosing to attack the shrubs near my neighbor’s front door instead of attacking me.

The ass-end of a juvenile nine-banded armadillo (Dasypus novemcinctus) as it crosses the sidewalk (20081004_12975)

I ran home, trembling like a child who has wet his pants, and sought the shelter of the seven predators living with me.  Even if I could not stand up to the horrible vision I had just witnessed, I knew these felines would protect me—even if only for their own selfish interests.

[photos are of a juvenile nine-banded armadillo (Dasypus novemcinctus); it’s but a fraction of the size it can reach in adulthood; this is the same species responsible for putting my face in the dirt a few years ago]