An armadillo appreciation: 10 facts about the Texas icon

An armadillo near Pleasanton, Texas, in early summer 2016. Photo by Dave Thomas

An armadillo near Pleasanton, Texas, in early summer 2016. Photo by Dave Thomas

They do make live armadillos, you know. Don’t feel bad — there’s many a Texan who only recognizes the critters as mascots and roadkill. A cartoon selling something Texas-y or a roadside relic.

Every Texan, then, should get a chance to see one in the wild. To stand downwind — ew, most wild armadillos could use a good bath — and to see one snuffling, shuffling through the brush, unaware of your gaze even as it stares myopically at whatever it is that commands an armadillo’s attention … how could you not love such a creature? Stand quietly and these tiny armored pacifists might waddle right up to you.

But don’t hug the armadillo! Not if hugging is something you aim to keep doing well. You see, armadillos are known to carry leprosy. And it is possible, though unlikely, for them to give it to you. And they can also spread Chagas disease, which is … seriously, don’t hug the armadillo.

Here are 10 more facts about the Texas icon …

The Jim Franklin-designed poster for The Armadillo World Headquarters. Courtesy of The Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum

The Jim Franklin-designed poster for The Armadillo World Headquarters. Courtesy of The Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum

1. Inspired by the Armadillo World Headquarters — Austin’s home to redneck hippies, hippie rednecks, progressive country music and artists of all sorts from 1970 to 1980 — University of Texas students in 1971 made a push to change the school’s mascot. Yes, from Longhorns to Armadillos. “No,” said everyone over 30, and it didn’t happen. But if you now feel the need to root for an Armadillos football team, there is San Saba High School.

Famed armadillo artist Jim Franklin, left, and Texas singer-songwriter Gary P. Nunn get an up-close look at the armadillo Bee Cave Bob after Bob emerged from his burrow at the West Pole in Bee Cave during the first annual Armadillo Day on Tuesday Feb. 2, 2010. Photo by Jay Janner

Famed armadillo artist Jim Franklin, left, and Texas singer-songwriter Gary P. Nunn get an up-close look at the armadillo Bee Cave Bob after Bob emerged from his burrow at the West Pole in Bee Cave during the first annual Armadillo Day on Tuesday Feb. 2, 2010. Photo by Jay Janner

2. It was artist Jim Franklin who got the armadillo-as-icon thing kick-started in Austin, drawing armadillos on music posters and wearing an armadillo-shell helmet of sorts as emcee at early Austin club The Vulcan Gas Company. He would later design a series of armadillo-intensive posters for Lone Star Beer.

3. Yes. Lone Star Beer. When you were a child in the ‘70s and you didn’t have the Internet, DVRs, more than a handful of TV channels or much of anything besides an early bedtime, randomly catching a Lone Star Beer “Giant Armadillo” TV commercial was like an early Christmas. What? You mean that was just me?

The Texas Memorial Museum features a glyptodon carapace big enough to make you rethink all your "speed bump" jokes about armadillos. Photo by Sung Park

The Texas Memorial Museum features a glyptodon carapace big enough to make you rethink all your “speed bump” jokes about armadillos. Photo by Sung Park

4. There was a giant armadillo, by the way. Just not one with a taste for beer (as far as we know). The glyptodon was around during Pleistocene times and wasn’t the sort of thing you’d just walk up to with a camera and a smile — they could grow as large as Volkswagen Beetles. You can pay homage to these giant armadillos at the Texas Memorial Museum on the UT campus.

These armadillos were digging in a harvester ant mound in South Texas earlier this year. Photo by Dave Thomas

These armadillos were digging in a harvester ant mound in South Texas earlier this year. Photo by Dave Thomas

5. What you are going to see in Texas or the rest of the U.S. is the nine-banded armadillo, one of 20 varieties. No, it can’t roll up in a ball (like a couple of its three-banded cousins). Yes, the females do give birth to four identical quadruplets each time. And they mostly eat bugs, including fire ants and wasps, as well as scorpions. You’re welcome.

A Texas nine-banded armadillo. Really, who could eat one? Photo by Texas Parks and Wildlife Department

A Texas nine-banded armadillo. Really, who could eat one? Photo by Texas Parks and Wildlife Department

6. Do people eat armadillos? Yes. From Texas, to the South to South America, people have eaten and continue to eat armadillos — though not as much these days (remember, that whole leprosy thing). The taste is said to be like pork. In fact, during the Great Depression, people would call armadillos “Hoover Hogs,” blaming President Herbert Hoover for the, uh, creative cooking some were forced to do.

7. Other types of armadillos include the “screaming hairy armadillo” and the “pink fairy armadillo.” Really. Both are found in South America … but only “screaming hairy armadillo” is an awesome name for a band.

No, we won't be showing any roadkill armadillos. We love the critters. But you can occasionally find them on the road posed with a beer bottle like this stuffed armadillo. Photo by Taylor Johnson.

No, we won’t be showing any roadkill armadillos. We love the critters. But you can occasionally find them on the road posed with a beer bottle like this stuffed armadillo. Photo by Taylor Johnson.

8. Roadkill! The nine-banded armadillo’s primary means of defense are jumping straight up and digging into the ground. So far human evolution is winning the battle here: asphalt and fast-moving cars counter these defenses pretty well. Even if a pickup or SUV rolls over an armadillo without hitting it, the dillo is likely to jump up, hit the undercarriage and things go quickly downhill from there for the critter.

9. We are past its 1970s county-fair and small-town festival heyday, but armadillo racing is still a thing. Climb into the little corral and pick the armadillo that likes you the least — with any luck, it’ll run the right way. Placing bets that go beyond the next round of beers is considered bad form.

Ol' Dillo is a mascot for Willie Nelson and Family and travels on the road with the band. Photo courtesy of Ol' Dillo's Facebook page.

Ol’ Dillo is a mascot for Willie Nelson and Family and travels on the road with the band. Photo courtesy of Ol’ Dillo’s Facebook page.

10. Armadillo taxidermy is also a continuing thing. You can buy them in a lifelike pose, roadkill pose, roadkill-with-beer-bottle pose, standing-up-with-toy-holsters pose … or one of each. Perhaps the most famous stuffed armadillo is Ol’ Dillo, who is a mascot for Willie Nelson and Family. Ol’ Dillo has spent the last several years watching the band from the stage and has been swiped a couple of times by overenthusiastic fans. So far, he’s always made his way back on the road again with Willie and Family.


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