February 2, 2013 – Gulf Islands National Seashore, Florida

So, the campground (and the areas near the campground) here seem to be teeming with wildlife. There are the previously noted snake threat and potential alligator menace. The birds here are amazing; this morning on our morning walk, we saw a Great Horned Owl and so many Great Blue Herons that I stopped counting them.

imageThe scientific name for a Great Horned Owl is Bubo Virginiana. Bubo is a far funnier Latin name than Ardea Herodias, which is the Latin name for a Great Blue Heron. This is the sole reason I included the picture of the Great Horned Owl, instead of the Great Blue Heron. Note: the same statement applies better to their English names. I probably should have just gone with that. Less research required.

However, the camp rock star is not a giant bird, but a Painted Bunting. There are people here daily, just looking for it, who aren’t even camping here. I have seen it flitting about, but haven’t gotten a good picture of it. As my campsite seems to be ground zero for Painted Bunting sightings, I am getting to hear all about the thing. Here is what I have gleaned from these conversations: put up a bird feeder and one might come by. Otherwise, you will find yourself traipsing around a random campground, frustrated that the woman sitting with her book and dog (who should, obviously, scare the little bird away), keeps seeing the thing, while you and your very expensive-looking binoculars look sillier and sillier as you look at every little bird that is flitting about, hoping it is the Bunting. Perhaps you should take her up on an offer of a beer and a chair, and wait for the bird to come to you.

But I digress from the matter at hand (shocking, I know). While I love birds, there is a far more interesting creature in the campground, as far as this Midwesterner is concerned: an armadillo.

The other night, after Choppy and I had retired to the tent for the evening, there was a rather loud rustling outside the tent. My panicky brain decided it was an alligator, the sane brain decided it was a raccoon after a moment to calm down, and Choppy didn’t care, she just was whining and wanting to chase after whatever it was.

I figured the best course of action was to get the flashlight and see what was out there making all the racket. I quickly saw the noisy creature: an armadillo!

Immediately, I tried (and failed) to get a picture, as the armadillo ran off into the alligator-harboring grass behind the campsite, thwarting my efforts. As soon as it was clear he was gone, I posted about his presence on Facebook, because, seriously, I was WAY too excited about seeing an animal that is one of the more common mammals around much of the country. I mean, even I have seen many dead ones by the side of the road (as well as a few live, soon-to-be-dead armadillos next to roads), so they can’t be that rare.

Anyway, the story is a little anti-climactic, and really was more appropriate to Facebook, so here are some fun armadillo facts from the Wikipedia Nine-Banded Armadillo page, which, as part of the Internet, is guaranteed 100% accurate all the time:

1. The armadillos we see in the U.S. are Nine-Banded Armadillos.
2. Unlike some armadillos, Nine-Banded Armadillos don’t curl up in a ball, which is a fact I personally find disappointing.
3. They do, however, jump straight in the air when startled, which I think is both awesome and really want to see for myself.
4. As a species, they spread rapidly, having expanded across South Carolina within 2-3 years of their first sighting in the state (I presume this statistic came from road kill sightings, as seriously, that seems like it would be the most efficacious way of doing that sort of study. But, things being as they are, someone probably got paid lots of money to set up cameras and actually look for live ones despite the obvious alternative. On a related note, they have been spotted in Evansville, Indiana, which I like to believe means they will soon be in Terre Haute. I am able and willing to accept large amounts of cash to perform any studies about their presence (live or dead) in Terre Haute, so as to observe their mobility and add to the valuable South Carolina research that has previously been done.
5. The Nine-Banded Armadillo is the Texas State Small Mammal. Note: Upon hearing this, I became curious as to why in the world a state would need to have a “State Small Mammal,” versus just a “State Mammal.” It turns out, after going to this website, that Texas originally was going to have just a “State Mammal,” but after allowing kids to vote on the choice, the Armadillo and Texas Longhorn were the two front-runners. Rather than, you know, pick the one that did actually win (as it’s not like they tied), Texas split the “State Mammal” into a “State Small Mammal” and a “State Large Mammal,” so they both won. In related news, a bunch of Texas school kids learned a valuable lesson that day: Don’t trust a politician, as they can’t seem to add and/or play by the rules. Personally, I learned that states have a lot of questionable “State [fill-in-the-blank] Mammals.” South Carolina, I am looking at you (again), and your “State Heritage Work Animal.”

So there you go. Learning. Tomorrow, I will likely return to complaining about the cold.