When the Armadillo Came to Austin

November 1, 2012 § Leave a comment

One of the great mysteries of recent times in Texas is the decline of roadkill armadillos. Why is anyone’s guess.

As recently as 20 years ago, they could be seen by the dozen, in varying stages of smushyness, on any drive of length through Central Texas and the Hill Country. Photos of roadkill armadillos, their beady little eyes pointed skyward, hugging Lone Star beer cans with their little claws, were second only in popularity to snapshots of cute babies awash in bluebonnets.

The nine-banded armadillo (Dasypus novemcinctus) is a relatively recent addition to the Texas fauna, and the only species of armadillo that occurs in North America.

Before the mid-1850s, according to the Handbook of Texas, the armadillo was known only along the lower Rio Grande valley. By 1880 it had extended its range across South Texas, and it reached the Hill Country and Austin before the turn of the century. Continuing its movement northward and eastward, the armadillo spread throughout most of Texas and into Louisiana and Oklahoma during the 1920s and 1930s. In 1981, it was declared the official state mascot, by executive decree.

All of which is preparatory to noting that today, November 1, is the 136th anniversary of the armadillo’s “coming out” in Austin, as duly noted in the pages of the Austin Daily Statesman.

An armadillo may be seen by the curious in natural history at Bennett’s candy manufactory on the Avenue in this city. It feeds on sugar or beef steaks, rolls itself in a knot when furious or frightened, is very gentle and placable, however, and its scales cover it when it gets wrathy, head, neck and heels. The armadillo is also called the peba and the latter, as described in the dictionaries, is the animal at Bennett’s, it having a longer tail and body than the armadillo. But the two species have the same peculiarities of covering and look very like an old soldier of the crusades or Don Quixote on all four. These pebas and peccaries abound in western Texas wherever prickly pear trees grow to great height; but Webster’s unabridged tells us that the peba is peculiar to South America, and Webster must correct himself.”

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