June 26, 2008
Posted: 01:02 PM ET
A few weeks ago, I saw what I thought was a familiar sight 'round these parts: A possum, with its long tail and newly flattened carcass, by the side of the road. As I passed by, I noticed that the "possum" had big ears and was wearing a suit of armor.
It was Armadillo roadkill, in an area where armadilloes aren't supposed to live (DeKalb County, just east of Atlanta). The third one I've seen in recent years. Its U.S. habitat was once confined to Texas, but the nine-banded armadillo has been marching its curious little self northward, slowed only by cold weather and the occasional set of steel-belted radials. Since armadillos are shy, solitary, and mostly nocturnal, they can move into an area with little chance of detection - except by their frequent appearance as roadkill.
But my anecdotal research doesn't hold a candle to Dr. Splatt (real name, Brewster Bartlett). A middle school science teacher in New Hampshire, Dr. Splatt's Roadkill Monitoring Project collects data from a network of schoolkids, who email regular reports of flattened fauna. We did a story on Dr. Splatt several years ago; I checked in with him recently, and he said the project is alive and well, though they're in the midst of some computer switch overs and haven't updated their website recently. He's got data, through 2007, in spreadsheet form that chronicles the demise of hundreds of possums, raccoons, birds, skunks, frogs, and more rarely, coyotes, porcupines, and moose. (Note that moose road-kill is a two-way street: hit an 800-pound animal whose center of gravity is four feet off the ground, and there's a good chance the moose will come through the windshield and kill you right back).
And deer are even more deadly. In recent years, about 140 people are killed annually in the U.S. in car-deer collisions, with a billion-plus price tag in collision insurance claims. The frequent sight of deer by the side of the road - whether feeding or decomposing - isn't a coincidence. Wildlife biologists say that deer gravitate toward "edge habitat" - the area where open space meets the forest. That's a pretty good description of most rural roadsides.
Peter Dykstra, Executive Producer, CNN Science, Tech & Weather
Filed under: Animals
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