When asked to vote for a state mammal, Texas school children were torn between the armadillo and the longhorn. In a compromise, the longhorn was declared the official large mammal, while the armadillo became the official small mammal.
The nine-banded armadillo is an odd critter. It is the only armadillo native to North America. (All others live in South America only.) However, its natural range falls short of Texas. It didn’t wander into what is now Texas until more than a century ago.
In fact, the armadillo is still spreading northward. Some are predicting that it will soon be found in Canada.
Armadillos have long been valued by medical researchers, partly because they can carry leprosy. In addition, they give birth to identical quadruplets.
If you’re wondering if Texans eat barbecued armadillo, the answer is “of course.” I have no idea how common it is, but there are plenty of recipes online. (Don’t confuse barbecued armadillo with smoked or grilled armadillo eggs.)
The Texas longhorn is said to be descended from cattle brought to America by Spanish colonists. After the Civil War, millions of longhorns were herded north across Texas and Oklahoma to Dodge City, Kansas. From there, they were shipped by railroad to hungry people in the East.
The great trail drives were punctuated with prairie fires, stampedes and an occasional gun fight or hanging. The longhorn drives were effectively ended by the harsh winter of 1886-87. Perhaps Texas earned its nickname Blizzard State during this epic storm.
However, longhorns and cowboys were both ultimately doomed by farms, fences and modern transportation. A Texas rancher and writer named J. Frank Dobie helped rescue the remaining longhorns from extinction. All longhorn fans should read his book The Longhorns.
Of course, a cowboy can’t be a cowboy without a horse, and a good cattle dog helps, too. Texas’ state horse is the versatile quarter horse. The state dog is the blue lacy. The breed is named for the brothers George, Ewin, Frank, and Harry Lacy, who moved to Texas from Kentucky in 1858 and settled in the area of Burnet County.
All of Texas’ horses and longhorns combined may be outnumbered by the official flying mammal, the Mexican free-tailed bat. Swarms of hungry free-tails are a force of nature.