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They must be born dead on the side of the road because you never see them anywhere else.

Many people have thought this, though they know that it isn't true. As more and more cars and trucks travel more and more paved roads, wildlife will always fall victim more often than other animals. The armadillo is not native to Alabama. It originally immigrated to this country from Central America. Some were possibly introduced to the southeastern states.

Why? No one is quite sure. Some believe that armadillos followed fire ants as they spread east and northward. While they prefer to forage on insects and small invertebrates, armadillos do consume some vegetable matter. They have peg-like teeth with no root or enamel, making soft food a necessity. They are covered with an armor plating which is actually bony dermal scales and have sparse hair on their unprotected belly. Their offspring all develop from a single egg, and they usually give birth to quadruplets that are always identical. Armadillos are typically slow moving, their vision is poor and hearing is little better. When startled, the first thing they do is jump straight up. This strategy works when a predator attacks, but when a car or truck is passing over them, it usually means sure death. It's an instinctive flaw that gets them killed when crossing pavement. But rest assured, there are many more that cross the pavement successfully than those that don't. It is also important to note that armadillos sometimes carry leprosy.

Opossums are true marsupials, meaning the young live in an external pouch after birth. They can be found throughout the eastern United States and along the extreme west coast. They are nocturnal animals that can climb well. The first toe on their hind feet is opposable (thumb-like) and they have a prehensile tail. The opossum is a scavenger on carrion (dead animal meat), and the smell of death draws it to the pavement. Many times, two or even three opossums are found dead at one site, all drawn to the animal carcass they were feeding on.

Opossums are slow moving, but armed with sharp teeth, an audible hiss and a defensive posture. One would think they are real fighters. But, after a short fight, they feign death (play possum). When this act works, the challenger eventually gives up and leaves. Roadways will probably be the place many armadillos and opossums meet their fate, all because of traits or habits that make them the way they are. Fortunately for these two species, the populations are high and not endangered of being hurt by losses to road kills. For more information contact Mitchell Marks, Wildlife Biologist, Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries, 4200 White Pike, Cherokee AL 35616-3911; (256) 359-6208.

Uploaded: 2/21/2004