Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Meet Rustle, our Armadillo

Meet Rustle, one of the newest members of our staff!
Rustle is a nine-banded armadillo, the only one out of the twenty worldwide recognized species of armadillo found in the United States.  It is also the most abundant.  The other species can be found in Central and South America.  We obtained Rustle on July 5, 2010; he was about 6 months old and weighed 2 pounds, 6 ounces.  Male armadillos can reach up to 17 pounds, while females can reach up to 13 pounds.  Rustle is growing quite quickly; as of August 23rd, he weighed 4 pounds 9 ounces!  We are feeding him canned cat food, hard-boiled eggs, earthworms, and cooked yams.  In the wild these armadillos would forage for a variety of insects, insect larvae and other invertebrates like millipedes, centipedes, snails and earthworms.  They have also been observed eating some fruit, seeds and other vegetable matter in the wild as well as a few frogs, toads, salamanders, lizards, skinks, small snakes, and reptile and bird eggs.
  Rustle enjoying his gourmet meal of canned cat food, hard-boiled eggs, earthworms, and cooked yams--yumm!

Rustle’s armor, called a carapace, consists of scutes or bony plates connected by tough bands of skin.  Each scute overlaps slightly with the one before it and the entire shell appears to move like an accordion as Rustle walks.  This armor covers the back, sides, head, tail, and outer part of the legs.  The ears, belly and inner part of the limbs are not covered by the armor, but have tough skin and some coarse hair.  Despite their name, nine-banded armadillos can have between 7 and 10 bands on their carapace.
  Close up of Rustle’s scutes

Nine-banded armadillos are generally nocturnal and spend most of their time foraging for food.  They have long, sharp claws which make them excellent diggers.  They also have been seen tearing bark off trees in search of insects.  Their tongues are sticky and rough to aid with their main diet of insects.  If alarmed, they often will leap vertically first and then run away with surprising speed to a nearby burrow they have dug.  Contrary to popular belief, this species of armadillo cannot roll up in a ball to protect itself.  They have very poor eyesight but an excellent sense of smell and hearing.
 Close-up of Rustle’s powerful claws
 Here you can see Rustle's small eyes, long snout, large ears

These animals have been quickly expanding their range more north and east in the U.S.  They are becoming more established in Missouri and Kansas and are being seen in southern Nebraska, southern Illinois and southern Indiana and as far east as South Carolina.  Their western range seems to end in central New Mexico.  They range southward through Central and South America into Argentina and Uruguay.  They avoid extremes of wet and dry habitats.  They prefer sandy or clay soils for burrowing.  They can be found in a variety of habitats like pine forests, hardwood woodlands, grass prairies, salt marshes and coastal dunes.
  Sara holding Rustle, he was being quite squirmy!*

Rustle made his debut appearance at Birds in Concert.  Very soon Rustle will be brought to education programs at schools, libraries and at events where he will assist the World Bird Sanctuary in teaching children and adults about the animals that make up our earth!  If you can't wait until then, you can visit him at our Nature Center.  We are open from 8am – 5pm every day except Christmas and Thanksgiving.

Submitted by Sara Oliver, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist

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