...and suddenly heard a rustling.
It wasn't a random kind of rustling--like the wind through the trees--and it wasn't a small rustling--like a squirrel or bird. It was very definitely a small animal rustling (if you've ever heard of ROUSs, you'll probably never walk through the woods the same way again, either).
I listened hard, then saw something moving. I trained my camera lens upon the spot.
It was an armadillo! That may very well be the closest I've ever been to a live one. I just sat there, nice and quiet, and the little guy kept moving. I must admit, it was actually a bit disturbing. After all, armadillos do look a little like very large rodents with weird tails and skinny snouts.
The creature came closer and, blurry picture by blurry picture, it became obvious that it was actually headed toward me.
Here's the clearest head-on shot I got:
I just kept watching and waiting, a little amazed that it kept coming my way. It was faster than you'd think, lumbering over impediments like a baby bulldozer with scales, snuffling through the debris on the forest floor. Thoughts kept running through my head like, Are armadillos the ones that are so sweet and cuddly on the outside, but get vicious when angered? Or is that a badger? Yeah, I think that's a badger. I figured that if my family members were to find my remains strewn around the woods they would at least have the last few shots from my camera to convict the attacker.
Finally, he got close enough that he did more sniffing the air than walking. He was actually kind of cute, rearing back on his hind legs and testing the wind (apparently armadillos have very big eyes but very bad eyesight). Eventually he crawled into a crevice in the bluffs, ne'er to be heard from again.
Here are some armadillo facts that I discovered later:
- Armadillos are often used in the study of leprosy, since they are among the few known non-human animal species that can contract the disease systemically. Poor things.
- The mothers always have their hands full, since four genetically identical quadruplets are born in each litter!
- Down here in Arkansas, "armadillo" is synonymous with "roadkill". That's because when they're scared they have a nasty habit of jumping--to about the height of a car's fender.
- In the traditional making of charangos (lutes made in the Andes), armadillo shells were used to make the back of the instruments.
- These little guys can stay underwater for as long as six minutes!