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Florida Guide > Miscellaneous

‘Show me the way to Armadillo’......with apologies to Tony Christie!

The first time I saw an armadillo it was not a pretty sight. We were driving down the Florida Turnpike on our way to pick up a cruise from Fort Lauderdale when there it was, lying at the side of the road – flattened. Road kill we would call it.

It was quite sad to see it lying there, like a little leathery tank, but flatter. They appear to be quite common in Florida, and they also seem to have a death wish where roads are concerned. The Florida Turnpike is a very long and straight road which runs all the way down to the south of Miami, much of it traversing sparsely populated wetlands, and we have frequently seen armadillos roaming about at the side of the road.

The armadillo is closely related to sloths and anteaters, and their snout is pointy or shaped like a shovel, and they have small eyes. The word ‘armadillo’ is Spanish, and means ‘little armoured one, ’ and it certainly is that. They are normally about 30 inches long, which includes their tail, and the most common one to be found in the USA is the nine-banded Armadillo. They don’t have very good eyesight which probably accounts for their lack of care crossing the road, and their resultant collisions with vehicles. Their armour is actually plates of dermal bone covered in small overlapping epidermal scales, which are made of bone with a covering of horn. The underside of their body is covered with soft skin and fur, and is not protected by scales. This armour plating serves as their main defence, but of course, against the mighty car the armadillo does not stand a chance. They cannot actually roll up like some other species of armadillo, such as the three-banded armadillo of South America, as they have too many plates, so they tend to flee. Unfortunately they often jump straight into the air when surprised, which results in them colliding with passing vehicles. As a result they have gained the nickname ‘Hillbilly Speed Bump. ’

They have sharp claws and burrow in moist soil near creeks and streams. This probably accounts for them being found on the Turnpike as alongside the road, on both sides, there is usually to be found water , as it is wetland. They eat mainly grubs and insects, and other invertebrates.

The nine-banded armadillo is actually very useful to science as it has a very unusual reproductive system. They give birth to four genetically identical quadruplets in each litter as the egg divides into four, so as they are always genetically identical, they are good subjects for scientific, medical or behavioural tests. They are not usually born until eight months after mating as they exhibit delayed implantation, and the young are born with soft leathery skin.

But I have to say that I can’t help thinking about armadillos every time I hear that popular song, you know the one. . . . . . ’Show me the way to armadillo. . . . . . . . . ’

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Page added on: 30 September 2010
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