July 19, 2017

The armadillo is Rodney Dangerfield of wild kingdom

     Why did the chicken cross the road? 
     Some would argue: “To prove to the armadillo that it can be done.”
     Comedian Rodney Dangerfield’s signature quip—“I don’t get no respect”—made people laugh.  He tickled funny bones with one-liners such as “My wife and I were happy for 20 years.  Then we met.”  With a big cigar wagging from his lips, he’d follow up with “I don’t get no respect.”
     The comic is dead, but his no-respect legacy lives through a funny-looking, wild-kingdom critter which we often see crushed on the side of the road.  And those that aren’t road-kill victims are night-time marauders, wrecking lawns.
     Yeah, you know the ones—armadillos, also known as “possums-on-the-half-shell.”  These long-nosed, armored rascals get little respect.  Until I read armadillos ate fire ants, I had scant appreciation for them.
     And every time I think of armadillos, I can hear my late Uncle James retelling—in between chuckles—his armadillo story.  My dad’s older brother was a retired Navy chief, an icon of respect and industriousness in our family. He retired from the Navy on a Friday.  On Monday, he reported to Rayonier, where he spent another 20 years.  Uncle James was a worker, and his ship-shape lawn proved he really worked his green thumb.
     Though a good-natured soul, Uncle James got riled when armadillos invaded his turf.  The World War II veteran declared World War III on the creatures making a mess of his meticulously groomed landscape.  One night, he hid amongst his azaleas with a gun.  After waiting and waiting, an armadillo poked its nose into view. 
     Uncle James shouldered the gun, aimed and squeezed the trigger.  Click. Oh, how I wish—just one more time—my dad and his four siblings were on our back porch, gathered around an ice cream churn or a pot of boiled peanuts.  I can hear the laughter as Uncle James retells that story of forgetting to load his weapon.
     I also wish Uncle James could have known my friend, Charley, who is known as the “Dillo Man” at Palmetto Bluff on South Carolina’s coast.  So far, the forester has captured more than 150 armadillos, thanks to a special device from Armadillo Trap.com.  I decided to call Sumrall, Mississippi, and talk to the inventor, Josh Russell. With his pre-scented traps, we’ve been catching possums-on-the-half-shell ever since.
     So, what do you do when the front-and-back doors drop on the plywood-box trap?            
     Some folks catch and release the armadillos back into the wild kingdom, 10 miles down the road.  Others dispatch them with a loaded gun. We have a fellow on speed-dial.  He eats them.  Yep, I know. Just as humans can, armadillos get leprosy, too.  George “The Possum” Jones sang: “Living and dying with the choices I’ve made.”
     Now, back to where I started: chickens.  I’ve been thinking about building a chicken “tractor.”  It’s a cage on wheels which you move between rows of your garden.  Inside, the chickens eat bugs, scratch up the weeds and fertilize the soil as you move the “tractor” down the rows.
     Uncle James didn’t like armadillos ruining his lawn.  I share the same ill feelings for fire ants.  How about an armadillo “tractor” to wage war on those pesky, could-make-a-preacher-cuss fire ants?  You could put your freshly caught armadillo to work in the cage, moving it from one fire-ant bed to the next.
     Shhhhhh, listen.
     I can hear the rumble of laughter, spilling out of heaven.
     Rodney Dangerfield is telling Uncle James, “Armadillo tractors? Your nephew, he don’t get no respect either.”