Young armadillo is the newest member of CROW’s animal ambassadors
The newest addition to the live animal exhibit at the CROW Visitor Education Center, a young armadillo, is capturing the hearts of many of the organization’s visitors.
“He’s been a huge people pleaser since he has been added here,” CROW Development and Education Coordinator Rachel Rainbolt said. “He’s really cute, and he’s super social and we are glad he is here to join our exhibits at the Education Center.”
She said their staff estimates, based on Billy’s size and when armadillo’s normally breed in the southeastern United States, is between two to three months old.
Billy was admitted to the hospital, Rainbolt said because he most likely ventured a little too far from his mother and got lost because he’s at the age when he would be weaning.
When armadillos give birth it’s usually to four identical young. She said they will almost always be four identical boys, or girls.
Billy’s cage has been made to accommodate his needs with snuggle blankets, and a separate burrowing and digging area. Rainbolt said he will rummage through the mulch for his crickets and worms to learn foraging techniques. When Billy is not at the Education Center he receives periodic visits outside to get sunshine, although he is nocturnal, and dig around in the dirt.
“Because armadillos are not considered a native species of wildlife in Florida, through the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, we are not permitted to rerelease him back out into the wild. So, we made the decision to keep him here to really teach people about armadillos,” she said. “Armadillos are native to other areas of the southeastern United States, but not originally Florida.”
Rainbolt said the reason why armadillos are here is not like most nonnative species. She said exotic species tend to be released from natural disasters like hurricanes, or people releasing their exotic pets.
“Humans do play a role in the fact that armadillos are here. One of the biggest contributing factors is said to be human development. So things like roads have actually allowed them to expand to where they are able to travel, as well as human development taking out a lot of their natural predators,” Rainbolt said. “So, these factors have really allowed them to expand upon where they would normally be living.”
There are approximately 20 species of armadillos, but the nine-banded is the only one found within the United States.
“The term armadillo actually means little armored one because of its bony like plates that they have covering their body. Those are actually called osteoderms. That helps protect them from being preyed upon in the wild,” Rainbolt said. “As juvenile armadillos, the bands don’t actually harden until they are a little bit older. So, a lot of the armadillos are preyed upon when they are fairly young when they are in the wild.”
The armadillo, when it reaches adulthood, is about two and a half feet long from tip of the nose to tip of the tail. On average they weigh about 12 pounds. The average lifespan in the wild ranges from seven to 20 years.
“There were a couple captive armadillos that lived a little bit longer,” Rainbolt said. “So we are hoping we will have Billy here with us for a very long time.”
They are known as a pest species for gardeners because they forge and burrow. She said their burrows, similar to gopher tortoises, provide a good commodity to other animals that are treated at CROW. Some of the animals include pine snakes, rabbits, possums, rats, skunks and eastern indigo snakes.
“Even though armadillos aren’t from around here, they do still play an important role for our animals that we do treat here at CROW,” Rainbolt said.
Armadillos sometimes receive a bad reputation because they have the ability to contract leprosy, but through the Center for Disease Control, they have stated humans getting leprosy from armadillos is fairly rare.
“So, it’s not all that common despite the fact that they are able to be a carrier for leprosy,” Rainbolt said.
Individuals who would like to see Billy, and learn more about CROW, can preregister for one of CROW’s Wildlife Walks and Hospital Tours.
The tour is offered on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday mornings, following the 11 a.m. presentation. It is $20 per person, which includes the general admission into the Education Center, participation in the presentation and the guided tour afterwards.
“The spaces are limited, so it’s on a first-come, first-serve basis,” Rainbolt said.
To register, call David Waszmer, CROW Visitor and Education Center and gift shop manager at (239) 472-3644, or through inquires on www.crowclinic.org.