By Bill Derby
A few years ago while traveling down the highway to Destin, Fla. south of Montgomery the wife and I noticed an unusual number of dead road kill armadillo carcasses scattered about. If you’ve ever had the opportunity to travel in those parts, the two-lane roads remind you of how travel to Florida used to be- back roads, small southern towns, roadside country stores. It’s still that way on the stretch below Montgomery. Dodging dead armadillos made it even more difficult.
The poor little critters must have learned how to cross roads from woodchucks and ‘possums. They’re not very good at it either. It’s worse for armadillos cause people going on vacation drive fast and don’t stop for love nor money. I noticed about 80 miles south of Montgomery near Luverne, north of Opp, the dead armadillos were all headed north.
Gas was getting low so we decided to stop at an old southern peach stand, combination Pure gas station. In the typical late afternoon heat two old gentlemen in worn straw hats were sitting on the store’s shaded front porch. After buying a half-bushel of peaches and filling up with gas I asked them why there were so many dead armadillos on the road. I remarked that in the past you only saw armadillos in central Florida.
“Yep, sonny, thar’s more of ‘em now,” one old fellow responded.
I asked, “Why do you think they are moving north?”
The old man looked up at me and said, “Why don’t you go inside, have an RC cola and ask that telephone pole salesman. He’s been up and down every road between here and Chattanooga.”
I opened the screen door went inside and noticed a gentlemen looking up at the ceiling standing next to the rusty drink machine. “Mister, are you the telephone pole salesman?”
“Yep,” he said as he continued to look up at the ceiling.
I looked up at the ceiling too. “Those fellas outside told me to ask you why armadillos are moving north.”
“Yes, they are. I think it’s because they’re following the fire ants. Have you ever been bit by a fire ant?”
“No sir, we don’t have them in East Tennessee,” I responded.
“Well, it hurts,” he said, still looking at the ceiling.
By now my neck was hurting from looking up at the ceiling. I then asked him if armadillo was good to eat. I suggested it was probably very tough meat.
The telephone pole salesman slowly turned, his head still looking up but with his eyes looking down at me and said, “Son, why do you think they call them armadillos? Do you know how many Yankees it takes to eat an armadillo?”
“Nope,” I said.
“Three—one to eat it, and two to watch for cars…hee….hee,” he laughed.
I decided to get on with our vacation. I dusted the Alabama sand off my feet and jumped back up into the truck. We pulled back onto the highway headed south dodging the armored ‘possum look-alikes.
“What’d you find out?” Judy asked.
“A couple things,” I responded. “First, I don’t ever want to be a telephone pole salesman, get bitten by a fire ant or eat armadillo. Secondly, we’d better learn how to dodge armadillos in East Tennessee cause they’re headed our way.”
Scientific expansion reports say. “Some of that migration can be attributed to opportunity: The armadillo in particular have been moving northward since it arrived in Texas in the 1880s and Florida in the 1920s, according to Colleen McDonough, a biology professor at Valdosta State University in Georgia.
“Some, however, is clearly triggered by a changing climate. Armadillos have settled into southern Illinois, Indiana, Kansas and Missouri – all areas that were “totally unexpected,” McDonough said.
Another report suggests, “If you live in one of the areas targeted for armadillo invasion, keep your eyes open for invading armadillos. Report sightings to your local wildlife officials to help keep range data current. If you don’t think that armadillos will ever make it in your neck of the woods, keep in mind that another South American mammal, the Virginia opossum, successfully invaded the United States despite the cold winters and physical barriers to range expansion. For the nine-banded armadillo, it looks like it’s Canada or bust!”
And we don’t want any of those creatures hitching a ride with a bunch of Alabama fans headed this way next Saturday either.