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Ask Dr. Salvo

October 10, 1995

Ask Dr. Salvo

Dear Dr. Salvo,

It has been many months since you last informed us on the fate of the armadillo. Many of us, loyal readers all, are eager to learn more about this fabulous toothless avenger, the terror of the fireant and the fleas. Are the armadilloes thriving? Are they endangered and shall we dedicate a postage stamp to their survivial? Do they turn and head back to Texas once they have seen the Gulf of Mexico> Or the Atlantic?

Does Salvo still rely upon the armadilloes for armadillo milk to neutralize the fire ant poison to which he is inevitably exposed? I am a retired exterminator in Baldwin County, formerly specializing in the total destruction of fire ants. I can still get a thrill remembering Dr. Salvo's fearless experiments with teams of armadilloes sweeping through the fireants like Sherman's march to the sea. (Please pardon that expression.)

Write soon, they may be flaring up again!

Henri Fabre, lover of ants and anteater

Mon Cher Professor Fabre,

Your modesty certainly eclipses your other gifts and rare qualities. Those of us living close to the fire ant, scarred veterans of many formic frays, can hear the sound of trumpets when your name is mentioned!

Fortunately, Carol, directress of our clipping service, had just struck it rich in the pages of the Mobile Mullet Wrapper -- but imagine burying this item on Page 13-B! Anyway, there was and is, news of the fascinating little travelers, first as to his recent geographic expansionism. The enclosed "Road Kill" article claims he is thriving way up past Birmingham, seemingly aiming for Nashville with plans to cut a record? Can Armadilloes sing? We don't know, but they can pick like anything! (viz. "Dudly, his large boxer, was clawed by an armadillo")

Somebody who loves armadilloes should warm them away from Nashville, which is the home, or lair, of Road Kill Bill. He is hell on armadilloes, and he sure can cook! He prefer them fresh and stuffed with fire ants...

Armadillos hitting the road -- north

Possum on the half-shell a new nuisance in some Alabama counties

Associated Press

DECATUR -- Armadillos tend to roam. Lately, they've been roaming north of their south Alabama habitat.

People complain about the armadillo habit of burrowing under house foundations and gardens. Their burrows trip and injure cattle.

"I've seen a few on the roads and there have been a few sightings in gardens, but last year is the first year we've had any complaints," said Lawrence County farm agent James Pinion.

Stan Stewart, a state conservation biologist, said that as the animals breed they disperse.

"It's just a normal population expansion," he said, comparing the spread of armadillos to the growth of their deer population.

Their range had been as far north as Bibb County, but it has expanded.

Some armadillos don't get far, however. They are crushed on the highway because poor eye sight makes it hard for them to see a moving vehicle.

"I get more calls on armadillo problems than on anything else," said Tim Reid, the farm agent in Franklin County. "People have not been very successful in trapping them. Most just shoot them."

Robin Grissom says Dudley, his large boxer, was clawed by an armadillo.

"Every time one ventures into the yard, Dudley won't let him escape. I guess he's got a nose for them -- now a scarred nose. They have that hard shell and the only thing Dudley could attack was the tail," Grissom said. "The armadillo won each fight till I got my gun and ended the war."

The broad Tennessee River tends to stop the roaming armadillo from roaming too far north.

While most locals consider armadillos pesky, they do eat fire ants and munch down maggots. Studying the animals is also helping researchers develop a vaccine for leprosy.

Some Mexican Indians consider armadillo meat -- which is said to taste like pork -- a delicacy.

In Clarke County, the Jackson Armadillo Gourmet Society serves up the mammal. Formed by the late Gene Whitehead and his Dirty Dozen Hunting Club on March 3, 1979, each year, just before spring turkey season, society members empty their freezers of game, cook it and eat it.

Road kill is on the move

What Does South Alabama have that the northern part of the state doesn't? Armadillos -- lots of armadillos.

Now, however, our brethren above Montgomery need no longer feel short- changed. According to state biologists, who get paid to know such things, that quintessential symbol of Alabama road kill is on the move. It's been slow going, naturally, due to a penchant for getting himself run over, but the ugly little critter has made it in large numbers all the way past Birmingham -- even annoying folks up in Lawrence County.

His appearance aside, the armadillo is a confirmed nuisance. He burrows holes in pastures, causing cattle to stumble; he tears up people's vegetable gardens and undermines building foundations. He gets in motorists' way. And, after he loses an auto-armadillo confrontation, what's left of him looks disgusting on the roadway.

But why sell the armadillo short, particularly if there's a chance of his migrating northward in even greater numbers? Researchers are using the armadillo to develop a vaccine for leprosy; not many other animals can claim that. He also eats fire ants and maggots, which are as repulsive as he is. And he makes a great T-shirt design, as this newspaper's New Media Department will attest.

We might also point out to our friends in North Alabama that in Mexico, some Indians consider armadillo meat a delicacy. (Taste like pork.) Why, there's no telling where the armadillo might end up or what he could become. Chicago? Detroit? A symbol of The Big Apple?

Sad to say, we'll probably never know. Those same state biologists who track the movement of Alabama's armadillo population say that in cutting across the top of the state, the Tennessee River poses a barrier to the critter's northward progress. Besides, even if the armadillo were able to conquer the river, with his problems navigating the state's highways, it'd take him at least several decades just to make it north of the Mason-Dixon.

Anyway, sloppy thinking will out: If the writer of "Road Kill" knows anything at all on the subject he would know that any armadillo capable of crossing the Mississippi River would make short work of the Tennessee River, and is likely to cross the Mason Dixon line before Ground Hog Day, chuckling and tapdancing the way they do. The armadillo's model of a speedy advance is much more like Stonewall Jackson's style than Longstreet's (though Longstreet was right, I now believe). Armadilloes at top speed can compete with squirrels.

This brief article in the first one I've seen confirming the armadillo's habit of eating fireants. That is why, of course, the fireant is slowly diminishing in numbers, while the armadillo is rapidly increasing, all in the past five years.

The writer is wrong about maggots, as the armadillo is fastidious, preferring a lively prey alive and running, and heavily spiced with formic acid. No carrion eater he. He will eat grubs and red worms, at times, or even gum up a small frog.

The holes he makes are shallow and coneshaped, not likely to trip cattle, destroy gardeners, or undermine houses. What else did Texas ever give us comparable in value to this useful beast? We should rise up and call him blessed. Texas too!

I will pass over the leprosy vaccine for now -- it has been 50 years since I met and talked to a leper, in Carrville, Louisiana. Still it remains a plague in some parts of the world, and our armadilloes would be the first to offer some blood or serum to help the cause against leprosy. To date no human has caught it from an armadillo.

In closing, M. Fabre, I want to congratulate you for the masterly style of your sudden disappearance from the Formicology Department of Basle-Suisse. You had done more than your share for this area of study -- and a well deserved retirement in Baldwin County seem entirely appropriate now. Your secret is safe with us. Please keep in touch.


P.S. In reply to the urgent question recently addressed to Salvo by S.I.R. (Serious Investigative Reporter):

No, I don't think he did it. Not his style, and his record is not that of a psychopath or a killer. A brawler, maybe, who might kill by accident. He could possibly have paid to have it done -- but there would be no satisfaction in that. It was done by a pair of pros of limited imagination, who planted evidence to point to O.J. alone, but could not figure in all the time factors that strain belief. Plus the missing clothing and shoes.

What made me feel strongly that O.J. was innocent? It was the fact that "everybody knows he did it." This rang a bell, and when the occupant came to the door it was -- guess? It was Lt. Dreyfus of the celebrated Dreyfus case, which took place just about one hundred years ago. It seems that everybody in France "knew" Lt. Dreyfus was a traitor and a spy. Also a Jew by the way, a fact which sealed his fate, at least for a few years. He was sent to Devil's Island and survived there somehow for 4-5 years. He was fully expected to die, but refused, and maintained his innocence till he was declared innocent in court. If Dreyfus wasn't a traitor, what was he?

A Jew, tout simple. If he was not guilty, who was? The nation of France, which was wallowing in anti-semitism in those days. The same goes for OJ: not a murderer but a black man. If he's not guilty, who is? We are, our country is guilty of racism still after 400 years to get over it. But his crime is worse: The violence and the sexual savagery of black men being well known to all, he still had the temerity to marry a white woman. And very publicly. Perhaps there are limits on how many taboos can be violated at once?


-- October 10, 1995

The Harbinger