Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Nine-Banded Armadillo

Yesterday, I finally took a decent photo of one of Texas’ many nine-banded armadillos, our state mascot. (Originally, legislators tried to make it the state mammal, but other legislators with strong anti-armadillo biases scuttled that effort. Mascot status was a compromise.) Although, as the link above emphasizes, the nine-banded armadillo only recently arrived in the United States (sometime around 1870 it had crossed from Mexico into Texas), it's worth noting that North America used to have a widespread species of "giant" armadillo, about twice the size of the nine-banded, that went extinct. (And that's without going back to the fossil record, which shows that we once had armadillos just a bit smaller than Volkswagen Beetles.) The nine-banded armadillo is to some extent, therefore, filling the ecological gap left by its extinct cousin, and may possibly begin evolving to increase its size, as its new territory has previously demonstrated that it can support a much larger armadillo, and an increased size could improve its ability to tolerate cold climates. This particular armadillo was found within a hundred feet or so of the entry to the Bamberger Ranch Preserve, not long after rain had briefly passed through the area; not enough rain to break our drought, but enough to tease us with the hope. (Note to self: Never enter the ranch without a telephoto camera at the ready; you never know what you might see. I have, for instance, often encountered a large flock of wild turkeys.)

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