Texas’ official Small State Mammal, the armadillo, usually comes out at night and burrows deep underground during the day to hide from coyotes.
On Saturday, however, people could hold and interact with armadillos during a new monthly race at Krause’s Cafe.
“We’ve got such a great history vibe downtown and it brings everyone together,” said Krause’s senior general manager, Jeremy Rader. “It’s a popular event and we look forward to having it more.”
The next race is March 7.
Former Texas rodeo clown Ralph Fisher tours the state with his wild and tame armadillos and various native animals, from buzzards to Brahman cattle.
Fisher and his wife, Sandra Reddell, frequent parties and weddings with their several armadillos, and were happy to hold some races for the restaurant.
Several armadillos featured were “wild,” meaning they were rescued, usually from people’s yards where they like to burrow and eat bugs. Then they have a more tame armadillo, named Phyllis, which people could hold with gloves.
“We don’t want them to be afraid of people,” Reddell said. “Even a small child can hold an armadillo and get a picture.”
Rader said the free event embodied “Gemütlichkeit,” a German word without a direct translation which conveys coziness and friendliness.
The restaurant also served up “armadillo eggs,” jalapeños and cheese wrapped in sausage and bacon.
“It’s exciting because we are allowed to host so many people,” Rader said. “It was really cool to see the kids out there watching the armadillos — don’t get to see that always since (armadillos are) usually awake at nighttime.”
Fisher and his wife run Ralph Fisher’s Photo Animals, an event organization which showcases native animals and rehabilitates armadillos.
Reddell said she and Ralph have taken care of animals for about 20 years, and they take care of about 12 to 15 armadillos year-round.
Oftentimes, they rescue the armadillos from yards with plenty of water and bugs. They then let them roam around a backyard area and feed them a special diet imitating the protein in earthworms.
They also give the armadillos medicine and help any injuries to rehabilitate them.
The USDA Animal Plant and Health Inspection Service inspects the area and ensures the armadillos are properly taken care of and registered. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department must also permit them to take care of the creatures.
“It’s not illegal to catch an armadillo, but it is illegal to transport them out of the county where you catch them unless you have a permit,” Reddell said.
Armadillos traveled into Texas from Central and South America in the 1800s, and today can be seen as far as Florida and Kansas City.
“We’ve talked to people who live as far as South Carolina and Kansas City with them,” Reddell said. “They can’t survive where the ground freezes. They’re very smart, been around since the dinosaurs.”
The reason they are so often seen dead along roadways is because of the way they defend themselves, Reddell said.
“When a coyote or another predator has them in a tight spot, they jump up to three feet in the air,” Reddell said. “This startles the coyote and gives them a chance to run away to get into his den and escape.”
If they’re on the highway, they see a car and tend to jump in the air, which is when they might get hit by a car front.
“They’re friendly and gentle, they don’t threaten anybody else,” Reddell said. “Everything else is their natural enemy, like coyotes, raccoons, possums.”
The shelled creatures are fascinating and friendly, and Reddell said she looks forward to more armadillo races at Krause’s Cafe to introduce Texans to the state’s small mammal.
“There are different animal races all over the country,” Reddell said. “There are lobster in Maine, crab races, dachshund races in Buda. People all over the country are using animals that are native in races to entertain and educate.”