from the woods near Natchez, Mississippi, USA
June 17, 2001
At dawn one day this week I was jogging down a forest path near my trailer when I came upon a family of Armadillos -- a mother with 3 half-grown young. You can see a picture of an earlier Armadillo in my backyard at http://www.backyardnature.net/mammals.htm.
If I hadn't stopped jogging I would have actually tripped over these critters, but that
wouldn't have been extraordinary, since Armadillos behave as if they were practically
blind. Often you can walk right up to them and they will be looking exactly at you,
but they will behave as if they don't see you.
On the other hand, if you get upwind from them, instantly their nose pokes into the air, they get a horrified look in their face, and they waddle off as if the Hounds of Hell were after them. My impression is that their eyes are OK, but they are attached to the armadillos' brains only very loosely, while their noses have superhighway access directly to their brains.
Armadillos have given me a lot of grief in the gardens. They burrow beneath my deer-fences, then during the night dig up enormous areas of the garden. Mostly they are carnivores, eating insects, grubs, worms and such, though sometimes they also eat a few berries, fruits and bird eggs. In the garden they couldn't care less about a cabbage plant or a tomato vine. In the gardens they are looking for earthworms and grubs, which in my highly organic soil are huge and juicy. The damage they do to my plants is purely incidental to their quest for earthworms.
You don't need to worry about being bitten by an Armadillo because their teeth are small, knobby things made for crunching bugs and worms, not for tearing flesh. On the other hand, if you pick one up by the tail their powerful digging claws can give nasty scratches.
You often see cartoons of Armadillos rolling themselves into cannonball-like spheres, leaving nothing but their bands of armor exposed to enemies. I've never seen an Armadillo do this. I've certainly yelled at them, jumped all around them and even poked at them with my toes trying to get them to do so, but my impression is that ball-rolling is a rare thing with them, if they do it at all.
Around Natchez, maybe 80% of roadkill consists of Armadillos. Nonetheless, they are common as sin.
Last week I mentioned how the rains accompanying Tropical Depression Alison had caused an incredible outbreak of mushrooms in the forest. Well, this week there were even more. It's simply mind-boggling. And the most common ones are the best ones for eating, too.
The most abundant species is the Chanterelle, Cantherellus lateritius, which you can see at http://www.backyardnature.net/eat_mush.htm. When I am working in Germany, my German friends regard this as the best of all eating, and on certain summer weekends the landscape is busy with entire families, baskets in hand, looking for Chanterelles, which they call Pfifferlings.
The second-most common species now also is a delight to eat, the Caesar's Mushroom, Amanita caesarea, a 10-inch-tall beauty with a bright red cap. This species remains good only for a day. Our plantation's manager, Kathy Moody, the only other person I am likely to see on an average week, is a mushroom fanatic. A while back when she heard on the late news that a rain was coming on the very day the Caesar's Mushrooms were coming up, she feared the rain might beat them down and actually went out at midnight with a flashlight to collect at least one good crop. This year there is no such need, for they can be picked by the bathtub-full.
BLACKBERRIES, MOSQUITOES & BATS
Blackberries are just getting ripe and in the gardens finally we have all the ripe tomatoes we can eat. Alison's rains not only spawned abundant mushrooms this week, but also lots of mosquitoes. However now the bats who live in my cistern seem to have brought them under control. This last full week of spring has been a beautiful one.