I don't drive to work. I race.
My parents taught me to drive. I told my dad I was nervous about driving 55 mph on the highway. He said, "Too bad, you're driving the speed limit." I think his other piece of advice was, "The right lane is for losers." Ever since, I've had no patience with anyone driving below the speed limit and making me get to work 20 seconds late.
And then there was my mom. She taught third grade, so when we approached a stop sign, she asked, "Now, there's a stop sign. What do you do at a stop sign?" And my 15-year-old mouth answered, "Pop a wheelie?" That was never the right answer.
The other day, I stopped at a stop sign and saw an armadillo. It was dead. My first thought: Cool, an armadillo. The nine-banded armadillo is covered with a shell that have nine flexible joints with horny scales, the ears and stomach the only parts soft and exposed. It's a prehistoric mammal with ancestors dating back 60 million years and distant cousins with the sloth and anteater. They are most common in Texas, migrating up from Mexico in the 19th century and now making their way up to South Carolina. To date, its northern migration is limited by cold weather. But according to some, global warming is allowing the armadillo to migrate further north.
They're never in a hurry, but they can run when needed. They will walk across the bottom of a stream because their shells are so heavy. For larger bodies of water, they can inflate themselves with air and
swim. Dogs and coyotes are their main predator. They instinctively jump up when surprised, which doesn't help much when it's the front end of a car. They have terrible eyesight and hearing but a good sense of smell. And all of that adds up to a primary candidate for roadkill.
They prefer to remain in woodlands, where it's shady and loaded with food and cover, and tend to hide during the day in burrows they dig in the ground. In fact, they may have as many as 15 burrows they frequent from time to time. They are most active toward evening and early morning.
They wreak havoc on the garden. Much like skunks are a problem farther north, armadillos love insects such as caterpillars, roaches, ants, wasps, snails and spiders. Like moles, they especially love earthworms. This wouldn't be a problem if they didn't destroy lawns, flower beds and gardens looking for them. Their clawed feet are effective at digging shallow holes as they forage, smelling insects as deep as 6 inches below ground.
If or when they become a problem in the Lowcountry, control them like a mole or skunk. Trapping is considered the most effective. For gardens or other areas, a fence can be installed 24 inches tall and 18 inches buried in the ground so they cannot tunnel beneath. They sometimes will burrow beneath a driveway or patio. Animal control or trapping can remove the intruder.
Other suggestions include filling an empty burrow with soil and mothballs to discourage their return, although they probably will just go to your neighbor's yard. Another method is to discourage earthworms and other insects in your lawn. I'm not convinced this is effective, and I'm not in favor of heavy insecticide applications to do so. Another approach is to reduce watering and fertilizing to make your neighbor's lush lawn more favorable, but then yours looks neglected and half-dead, so I'm not sure that option is exciting, either. I've got two dogs. Armadillos won't find our backyard a happy home, but then my dogs are digging holes, so I still lose.
My son is going to be driving soon. We're practicing on empty roads, and if he wants to drive 45 mph, I'll let him. Of course, he'll have to answer the third-grade questions about stop signs.
Tony Bertauski is a horticulture instructor at Trident Technical College. To give feedback, e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.