Saturday, July 03, 2010

GRAND DAYS OUT #2 - Armadillos smell bad!

During my week long stay at the Tall Timbers Research Station, Tallahassee, Florida, I was lucky enough to experience some seriously cool wildlife stuff. This tale follows immediately on from GRAND DAYS OUT #1 (see JUNE archive) and was actually part of the same day... just felt like a whole other one :-) My compadres were Annie, an American octagenarian crazy woman, Arturo, a Mexican student with Earthwatch, Laura an undergrad from Liverpool and Colleen our Minnesotan project leader) and it involves Nine-banded Armadillos. Here's how my diary at the time recorded the events.

04:30 - 11:00 - Armadillo Hunting

Got the chance to go Dillo trapping and leapt at it. Trouble was Annie happily told me about ticks, mosquitos, chiggers (get under your skin, need nail varnish to suffocate them) AND poison ivy to contend with. Long sleeved shirt recommended. And waht did I take out of my luggage at the last minute? Long-sleeved shirt. A little trepidatious therefore, but stocked up with Jungle Juice, packed the camera, bins and bottled water and headed off into the swamp with Colleen, Arturo, Annie and Laura - destination 'Sheep Island'.

Plan was to split into 3 'groups' - 1 left perimeter, 1 right perimeter and 1 up the middle. You catch the lil buggers with oversized butterfly nets, ear tag them, take a DNA sample and put in a microchip. The technique we were going to use was to 'slow walk' to spot them, then coral them towards a net. Set off with Annie to do the right perimeter. Picked up a Barred Owl, sitting in a tree, but no Armadillos... We were all in radio contact so if one group spotted one we could meet up for the tagging. Nobody got one though. Did hear Alligator splash into the water by us though, but didn't see it. Met up to do a second sweep and this time SAW Alligator in the water at the end of the track...

...BUT still no Armadillos! Doing a third sweep when got a radio call... "Red-tagged heading your way. Don't catch it... it's already tagged." Didn't even see it, so a little disappointed. Teamed up with Colleen for fourth and final sweep back to the truck for some water. [It was bloody hot and humid!] It was now about 6:30. Saw quite a lot of large Millipedes [about 5cm x 1cm roughly cigar-shaped things] on the tracks - good year for them apparently. They smelled of almonds - on account of the cyanide they release as a defence mechanism... nice! Also found 4-5 empty Painted Turtle shells ranging in length from between 9cm up to 30cm.

Also had good views of Swamp Cypress.

As we were having no luck hear, decided tto try another site - 'Fraction Hammock'. Parked up and this time split into 2 groups. I went with Arturo & Colleen. Only been going a few minutes when Annie radio-ed in "Racoon", however, we were already onto a pair of Armadillos trundling towards us on the track. Before we could get to them though, they both ambled off the track in to the brush. Colleen shot off around the back to head them off, whilst we kept an eye on the track in case they reappeared. Call came through that she'd caught the male. Colleen emerged carrying what looked like a grey rugby ball and set it down on the track to process it.

I recorded the measurements: front carapace, 1st segment, rear segment, tail base, tail length and weight (3.9 kg). Three things were apparent; (i) their smell - they stank(!) awful, stale, sickly, sweaty smell from scent glands (ii)how strong they were (you need to sit on them to hold them down) and (iii) how fast they were when you release them - shot away like a rocket! Fantastic! My first ever Armadillo AND I got to hold it and release it [have a photo somewhere] BUT boy did my hands stink afterwards. Had to use mosquito wipes to get rid of it. It was much darker grey than I had imagined, kind of graphite grey - assumed they'd be pale buff for some reason. [I also, when I woz but a lad, thought that Great Crested Grebes were the size of Mute Swans based on my Observer's Book of Birds - aaaw. Funny things, assumptions...].

Headed off next further down the track to try for more. No luck. BUT the Fireflies were amazing, so too the shear noise of the Cicadas and even louder, Tree Frogs EVERYWHERE (trisyllabic call - sawing sound like 'KREK-KRAK-KREK'). By the time we'd got back to the truck it was dark so we moved on to spotting them [Armadillos] with powerful lights by driving up and down the tracks. We'd not been going for too long when we spotted one in the headlights. Leapt of the tail-gate [where I'd been perched with Annie], but it had gone. Later had more success - riding the tail gate again, breaks on, off we dashed... me on the hand-held spot light and Annie with the net - man she could run for an old biddy! Caught it no problem and processed it in the headlights of the truck.

 I actually got to measure this one. Larger than the last... 4.2kg. SO, caught 2, saw 4, measured 1, released another - Happy Days :-) Drive back yielded Possums (great views), White-tailed Deer and a calling Screech Owl - all in all, BRILLIANT!


  1. whooper is a bad name for a swan because swans are preetie and do i have to say what whooper means of course fart it would only be a good name if they fart all the time and the smell

  2. Chiggers do not burrow under your skin, nor do you use nail polish to suffocate them. They release a toxin that breaks down your skin cells, which enables them to ingest the skin. The toxin however irritates the skin causing a rash and itching. By the time you see the red bump on your skin, they have already fallen off and died. Nail polish does not help, the best treatment is Benadryl itch cream.