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roadkill armadillo
The Texas opossum in its typical state.

Yeah, this is kind of gross, but cut me some slack; I've been in Texas for now, and this is one of maybe half a dozen armadillos I've seen that were actually distinguishable from your garden variety sailcat or road opossum (or possum, for the aphetically-inclined). As ripe and leaky as this little guy is, he's still a fairly... tidy package.

But what is it with the apparent death wish that these fascinating critters seem to have?

Oh, I know all the technical chatter about dillos' notoriously poor hearing and eyesight and how, when startled, they leap straight upward (into the undercarriage of whichever vehicle would have passed safely over them)1; but it occurs to me that history has inflicted a grave injustice on chickens of the world.

Everyone has heard the classic "Why did the chicken cross the road?" joke and its endless variations, but given the evidence littering our public highways, I'm more apt to wonder why the armadillo even considers the attempt ("I saw him just yesterday. He seemed... depressed."). Likewise, the opossum, that armorless cousin to the armadillo, whom I often saw grinning daemonically in my headlights, when I lived in Kentucky? It seems fairly obvious to me that the 'dillos and 'possums must be a lot more prone to wanderlust than your typical barnyard fowl.

And then it came to me. Maybe it's not so much the frequency with which chickens cross as their higher success rate. A popular joke (with Texans, at least) goes

Q: Why did the chicken cross the road?
A: To show the armadillo it could be done.

Maybe I'm overthinking this.

  1. After living in Texas for more than 10 years, I finally saw my first live armadillo. That glimpse was as fleeting as the time it took me to cover the short distance to where it stepped off the shoulder of the road into my headlight beams. I heard The "thumpty-bump" of the unfortunate critter dribbling between the pavement and my floorboards and knew he hadn't had the sense to duck. On the other hand, I've seen four roadrunners loitering about the neighborhood, lately. Despite their reputation as speed demons, I have yet to see one reduced to a mash of goo and feathers across the double yellows.

A Few Armadillo Links

Handbook of Texas Online: ARMADILLO
An informative, no-nonsense article about armadillos.
Armadillo Central
Billed by its author as "the best Armadillo site on the net", this site is the place to go if you're in the market for an armadillo handbag. Fun, but I'd suggest turning down the volume on your computer speakers before visiting. Unless you happen to like cheesy MIDI renditions of Dave Matthews tunes, that is.