Possum on the Half-Shell

Possum on the Half-Shell

Half-shell may not be quite accurate to describe the bony plates protecting the armadillo; they look more like a two-thirds or even three-fourths shell now that I study the photo. The title of today’s post is my half-joking nickname for them, but it is possibly more derogatory than it ought to be.  Maybe . . . but maybe not.

Possums are (to me) like big ugly rats.  Snarly, hissing, narsty barsteds when they climb up onto the front porch of my farmhouse to eat the food intended for my cats, or raid my chicken coop and wreak havoc on my laying hens. Can you feel me trembling with righteous indignation from just typing that?!?  Despite the fact that some people have actually kept a possum as a pet, the very idea of such a thing just gives me “the all-overs” as writer Barbara Kingsolver calls it.  Now there’s an author who has a way with words!  But I digress.

Armadillos are indeed omnivores, but if they are predatory enough to try for a chicken, I haven’t heard about it.  They do tunnel around in the ground, rooting out beetles and termites (hey, there’s a bonus!) and other insects.  In the process, though, they might also dig up all those tulip and daffodil bulbs you worked so hard to plant, or disturb the root system of your favorite rose bush.  If the burrow they’ve dug for themselves–where they tend to sleep about 16 hours a day–happens to be in your lawn, it creates an even bigger hazard than a mole tunnel for turned ankles and bruised bums.  Take another look at the claws on those feet.  These guys are digging machines!  Their long shovel-nosed faces are custom-designed for pushing through the soil to find their favorite treats, which helps just one of these critters to make a mess of a carefully tended yard in short order.

Because their eyesight is poor, this nocturnal mammal can easily become road kill, and has sometimes been called a Hillbilly Speed Bump.  The first time I saw one like that alongside the road was on a trip to Texas, maybe 30 years ago.  Normally a warm-weather animal, armadillos have migrated over the decades from our most southern states, up through Arkansas and Oklahoma, and have now been spotted regularly in Missouri for several years.  But you won’t catch me inviting one to stick around my place; besides the risk to flower beds, did you know that armadillos can carry the bacteria for Hansen’s disease, more commonly called leprosy?  My research for today’s post told me that only about 5% of the human population is susceptible to catching that, with the rest of us having a natural immunity, and that it’s actually treatable now, but I’m not taking any chances.  The short legs, triangular faces, and long skinny tails remind me way too much of a possum.  And you already know what I think about those.

Who’s your outdoor nemesis?  Leave a comment and tell us about it!