Turns out an armadillo’s natural defenses don’t stand up all that well to cars, trucks and SUVs.
A suit of armor doesn’t do much good when you jump up to three times your height while standing in the middle of the road.
“When they’re frightened, they turn and see they’re about to get pegged,” said Roger Wolfe, a regional wildlife biologist for the Kansas Department of Wildlife & Parks. “Then they leap — and meet the radiator.
“They lose most of the time, and sometimes cause some damage to the car.”
Officials say armadillos have been rambling through areas of Lawrence and rural Douglas County for at least 10 years now. Sometimes the armored mammals have hitched rides on trucks and harvest combines from Texas and Oklahoma, while others appear to have grown up in the area, as warmer winters have extended nature’s limits up into southern Nebraska.
But such animals opting to cross a road — including a certain nine-banded armadillo that ventured to scurry across Douglas County Road 458, just west of U.S. Highway 59 — often end up flat on their backs.
Armadillos possess exceptionally strong hind legs, which allow them both to burrow for food and shelter and to startle predators by leaping high into the air before scurrying to safety.
When a passing vehicle gets involved, unfortunately, the leaping often doesn’t help.
“They literally catapult themselves,” said Marty Birrell, nature education supervisor at Prairie Park Nature Center in Lawrence. “The minute they go into that defensive mode, they do this vertical explosion that puts them at headlight level.”
While Birrell has seen several armadillos dropped off at the nature center during the past 10 years, she doesn’t expect such animals to overtake the area. Daniel Merriam, a senior scientist emeritus at the Kansas Geological Survey in Lawrence, considers armadillos too susceptible to cold weather to be able to establish large populations in the area anytime soon.
So Keith Browning, the county’s director of public works, isn’t worried.
While deer are involved in nearly a third of all auto accidents in rural Douglas County, he said, the armadillo menace thus far has yet to generate a need for ’dillo warnings.
“Now we’ve got one armadillo (incident) for the whole county,” he said Tuesday, after learning of the photographic evidence of critter carnage on County Road 458. “I don’t think we’ve crossed the install-signs threshold.”