Book Reviews of ‘Dillos

Associated Press  Aug. 23, 2007

COLLEGE STATION, Texas (AP) _ Bill Klemm’s expertise in the brain capacity of animals doesn’t keep him from marveling at the staying power of one of nature’s more dunderheaded species. “I have an enormous respect for something that’s lasted for 55 million years,” said Klemm, a retired Texas A&M University professor of neuroscience and veterinary biosciences and author of “‘Dillos,” an entertaining and informal new book looking at the official state mascot of Texas. “We know they’re dumb,” Klemm added. “But they’re smart enough to live in the South.”

Dasypus novemcinctus, the cat-sized, nine-banded species of the mammal known for its coat of armor, has been proliferating in much of the southeastern United States since making its way from Mexico 150 years ago.

A year in the making, “‘Dillos” shows Klemm’s academic pedigree with a detailed index and 11-page source list. But a mere glance at the cover quickly dispels any notion this is a dry textbook. After all, how many textbooks feature a color photo of roadkill on the cover? “I was driving my grandkids,” Klemm said. “We saw this fresh roadkill. I went back home and got the camera.” The image is all too familiar to folks in Texas and throughout the South: a motionless armadillo on its back on the pavement, legs up, tail outstretched. Klemm said armadillos foolishly leap as a vehicle approaches. For a motorist, there’s a distinctive thump reverberating from the undercarriage. For the armadillo? “Looks like a concussion,” the professor proffered.

In the book, Klemm offered a look at prehistoric armadillos and recipes for cooking one you might find munching on insects in your garden or digging up your grass. “Catch them by the tail,” he advised. “They really don’t bite. They don’t have good teeth. But they do have big claws.”

While he acknowledged he never ate one, he said others have described the meat as like greasy pork. Make sure it’s well cooked. Armadillos are known for carrying diseases that don’t infect them, which Klemm says should be of interest to scientists and fodder for future study.

Klemm opens with a description of the back porch of his home in the country outside College Station. He sits on a swing at sunset to “enjoy the sights, sound and smells of summer.” One of these sounds emerging from the din of crickets is a shuffling of the leaf mulch that I’d put in the flower bed last winter,” he writes. “The rustling grows louder, and I suddenly realize: it’s that damn armadillo, tearing up the flower bed again.”

His gardening woes aside, Klemm clearly admires the armadillo, describing it as an “evolutionary superstar” and “animal version of a Bradley tank.” He points out images of the animal show up everywhere from Mayan culture to pop culture and suggests that given its incessant devouring of insects, it may be responsible for heading off locust plagues.

“They mind their own business and shove dirt up their nose every day,” he said. “As long as there are insects … as long as there are cockroaches, there will be armadillos.” Well, they are stupid,” he added. “Let’s not go overboard.”

J. Stephen McCusker, director of the San Antonio Zoo, touted the book an easy interesting read “that allows you to put your arms around this wonderfully weird creature.” Dewey Kraemer, an A&M researcher involved in cloning the first white-tailed deer, characterized the book as “appropriate for everything from the classroom to the coffee table.”

Klemm sees the animal, despite being nearly deaf and blind and somewhat dimwitted, surviving another 55 million years. “It’s hard to imagine that armadillos would ever become endangered as a species,” he writes. “The world is in no short supply of insects to feed on.”


 

Houston Chronicle, Glenn Dromgoole

 

DR. W.R. Klemm, who teaches in the College of Veterinary Medicine at Texas A&M University, has written an entertaining and easy-to-read book on a fascinating Texas icon: the armadillo.

‘Dillos: Roadkill on Extinction Highway? is a 146-page paperback (Benecton Press, $15.95; Web site: dillos.us) filled with interesting facts, observations and comments about the official small state mammal of Texas (the longhorn is the official large state mammal).

“Freak, weird, quaint, cute, opportunist, survivor, miracle of nature all are terms that have been used to describe this strange creature of nature,” Klemm writes.

Focusing primarily on the nine-banded armadillo, the one most common in Texas, Klemm describes the animals as “evolutionary super stars. They are to mammals as turtles are to reptiles: well-adapted to their niches and long-term survivors.”

There is plenty of scientific information presented here. But Klemm doesn’t let science get in the way of a good story. He devotes the longest chapter in the book to “Armadillos in Pop Culture.” Texans, Klemm writes, “admire their tenacity, resourcefulness, peacefulness, and humble origin. Armadillos epitomize the underdog that overcomes insurmountable obstacles.”

Notwithstanding our admiration, we – or at least some of us – are not averse to eating them. Klemm offers nine armadillo recipes, including two for armadillo chili and two armadillo casseroles. Others are mu shu armadillo, armadillo in cream sauce, armadillo and rice, smoked armadillo chops, and one called Sally’s armadillo something or other. The author doesn’t testify to the tastiness of these dishes.

Despite the question mark in the book’s title, Klemm remains optimistic about the armadillo’s future. Certainly there are threats to its survival, including urbanization and fire ants. But armadillos “still have many things going for them as a species,” he says. “The same traits that got them this far should serve them in good stead in the future. There is the protection offered by body armor: There is a food supply based on insects, which seem always to be in super abundance. There is the efficient reproduction.

“If we humans drive ourselves into extinction,” Klemm predicts, “armadillos will still be here.”

Glenn Dromgoole


 

Midwest Book Review

9780975522523, $15.95www.karenross.com

‘Dillos: Roadkill on Extinction Highway? is a tribute to the humble armadillo, the hardy state mammal of Texas. From the natural history of these “living fossils” to their value in medical research, their representations in pop culture, and even a recipe for armadillo chili, ‘Dillos gives a jovial portrait of armadillos and their relationship to humans. On a more sobering note, ‘Dillos also examines why armadillos are so vulnerable to becoming Roadkill (to the extent that they have been alluded to as “Texas speed bumps”) and the sad possibility that their decreasing numbers could lead to the species’ extinction. Black-and-white photographs illustrate this layman’s guide, recommended for armadillo aficionados everywhere.


 

 

Reader Views

7101 Hwy 71 W #200 Austin, Texas 78735 512.288.8555 www.readerviews.comadmin@readerviews.com

‘Dillos: Roadkill on Extinction Highway?

W. R. Klemm

Benecton Press (2007)

ISBN 9780975522523

Reviewed by Irene Watson for Reader Views (4/08)

Being a Texas resident, often experiencing armadillos as road kill, I wanted to know more. The “more” I got in Klemm’s book “’Dillos” was definitely more than I expected!

One aspect I was interested in was what good armadillos were in nature, because my experience was a dug-up flower bed. I was pleased to find they eat the ever-growing population of locusts (known here as cicada) as well as other insects and grubs. Klemm also explains “These creatures not only look prehistoric, they are prehistoric. Direct ancestors of armadillos appear in the fossil record in South America and these are dated to have lived 55 to 60 million years ago.” Interestingly enough, armadillos have evolved over time in order to survive the changing environment.

Klemm shows sketches of 8 living species of armadillos. They certainly have similar characteristics but definitely have the distinct differences. Living in underground burrows they are able to survive the Texas summers, but at the same time keep warm in colder winters of Louisiana. Like any other animal, their daily survival tasks are to find food. They sleep during the day, but forage during the early morning and late evening.

There is much more to this book than one could cover in a review. However, I do need to ask a question. Interested in tasting armadillo but don’t know how to cook it? Klemm even gives recipes! How does Mu Shu Armadillos sound to you? Or Armadillo chili? I’m not quite ready to venture out and get myself an armadillo, but, if they keep digging up my garden as profusely as they have been lately, eating armadillo may be closer than one thinks!

Combining history, science, research, and his own experience with armadillos, Klemm gives a concise perspective of the animal. Reading “’Dillos: Roadkill on Extinction Highway?” gives the usually unlikeable mammal a place in our society and appreciation of its existence.


 

Rebeccas Reads

RebeccasReads.com

For those interested in armadillos, or animals in general, May 28, 2008 ByRebeccasReads.com (Austin, Texas) – See all my reviews

Reviewed by Sandie Kirkland for RebeccasReads (5/08)

W.R. Klemm, a veterinarian and PhD, has researched the armadillo extensively, so “‘Dillos” tells the reader everything they’d ever want to know about these amazing creatures. Armadillos are considered primitive mammals, as they can be traced back to the dinosaur age. They are nocturnal, and live almost entirely on insects, thus benefiting farmers. Armadillo females in the U.S., which are the nine-banded armadillos, always give birth to quadruplets, who are clones of each other. This, plus the fact that armadillos are capable of having leprosy, makes them valuable medical research animals.

Klemm has covered all facets of armadillo facts, from genetic backgrounds, to habitat range to popular culture that focuses on armadillos in many different ways. Some of the interesting items were the discussion of how armadillos came to the U.S. (migration from Mexico in Texas and nearby states while Florida’s armadillos are descendants of zoo animals that got loose), how the fertilized female can somehow control implantation, sometimes having the babies up to two years later, and the story of how school children initiated a campaign that resulted in the armadillo being named the state small mammal of Texas. He discusses the past, the present, and the future of these animals.

For anyone interested in armadillos, or simply in animals, this book is recommended. “‘Dillos: Roadkill on Extinction Highway?” is thorough and very readable.


 

Texas A&M University

Texas A&M Prof Pens New Book About Armadillos Tuesday, July 24, 2007 – 20

What animal has been around for 55 million years, has remained virtually unchanged in that time, is the only animal that always gives birth to four identical quadruplet offspring, will never win any beauty pageants but is beloved by many for its clumsy and at-times comical mannerisms?

If you answered the armadillo, you can pick up the marbles — and it means you are probably familiar with the mysterious creatures.

Texas A&M University’s Bill Klemm, a professor of neuroscience in the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences and admitted armadillo fan, has written ’Dillos: Roadkill on Extinction Highway? and the just-released book contains all you ever wanted to know about armadillos.

“They are strange creatures and fun to study,” Klemm says of his reasons for writing the book. “They are sort of nature’s version of a Bradley tank. You have to give them credit — they are still around after millions of years. You would have to call the armadillo a survivor above all else.”

There are 20 species of armadillos (a Spanish word for “little armored one”) and the nine-banded armadillo — named for the rows of bands around its middle — is the only species seen in Texas. The animals can be found as far north as Kansas and Illinois, but are most frequently seen in the Gulf Coast and Southwest and as far south as Argentina .

Most are about 30 inches in length and weigh from 8-15 pounds, but the giant armadillo of South America can be three times that size. “We have proof that one early ’dillo species was the size of a black bear. Even so, it is likely that this species, as with all ’dillo species, are quite harmless and mind their own business.”

Other ’dillo facts in his book include:

  • Underwater ability. Armadillos are adept swimmers and can stay under water for

as long as six minutes. “They know how to inflate their stomach with air, so they can stay down a long time,” Klemm points out.

  • Leprosy. “Armadillos can carry the bacterium that causes leprosy, and for that reason, they have been studied for many years. There have been attempts to make a vaccine from armadillos, but with no success yet. They appear to be partially immune from the disease.”
  • Jumping ability. When surprised, armadillos often jump straight up into the air as a defensive maneuver. “But when they cross a road, that often means they jump right into the undercarriage of a car,” Klemm says. “That’s why you see a lot of dead armadillos on the highway,”
  • Senses. Armadillos have poor vision but are outstanding sniffers. “They can smell insects, even when they are many inches underground. They can go right to a spot and find bugs or worms to eat,” he adds.
  • Protection. When cornered, armadillos will often curl up into a ball. “They have strong claws they can use, and their armor-like shell gives them great protection from predators. It’s one good reason why they’ve been around for millions of years.”

Like the creatures themselves, armadillos have strange reproduction qualities. Klemm says they always give birth to identical quadruplets, all of the same sex. “They are the only animal that does this, and no one knows why,” he explains.

The animals were often caught and eaten during the Great Depression and were called “Hoover Hogs,” after President Herbert Hoover, Klemm notes. They can be trained to use a litter box like a cat, “but they don’t make good pets because they are nocturnal and at night, they will tear up a house rummaging around,” he adds.

The book is written for a general audience, and includes chapters on ’dillo natural history, the biological features that have enabled them to survive all these millions of years, pop culture, importance in medical research and prospects for future evolution. The species in the U.S. may be in the process of evolving capabilities for survival in colder climates, Klemm believes.

“There’s a reason they’ve been named the official mammal of the state of Texas— it is because people seem to be fascinated and impressed by them,” Klemm adds. “I’ve written this book because they really are amazing creatures and we need to learn a lot more about them.”

For more information, go to http://dillos.us/

Contact: Bill Klemm at (979) 84504201, email wklemm@cvm.tamu.edu or Keith Randall at (979) 845-4644 email keith-randall@tamu.edu .

Texas A&M University

http://www.tamu.edu/tamunews/

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