Piggy and Hardshell
A LL the way to school the next morning Peter Rabbit did his best to guess who it might be that they were to learn about that day. "Old Mother Nature said that he is related to some one who lives in Farmer Brown's barnyard," said Peter to himself. "Now who can it be?" But try as he would, Peter couldn't think of any one. He asked Jumper the Hare if he had guessed who it could be. Jumper shook his head.
"I haven't the least idea," said he. "You know I seldom leave the Green Forest and I never have been over to that barnyard in my life, so of course I don't know who lives there."
Danny Meadow Mouse and Whitefoot the Wood Mouse were no wiser, nor was Johnny Chuck. But Chatterer the Red Squirrel, it was plain to see, was quite sure he knew who it was. Chatterer had been over to Farmer Brown's so often to steal corn from the corn crib that he knew all about that barnyard and who lived there. But though Peter and the others teased him to tell them he wouldn't.
So when Old Mother Nature asked who had guessed to whom she had referred Chatterer was the only one to reply. "I think you must have meant the Pig who is always rooting about and grunting in that barnyard," said he.
"Your guess is right, Chatterer," she replied, smiling at the little red-coated rascal, "and this morning I will tell you a little about a relative of his who doesn't live in a barnyard, but lives in the forest, as free and independent as you are. It is Piggy the Peccary, known as the Collared Peccary, also called Wild Pig, Muskhog, Texas Peccary and Javelina.
"He is a true Pig and in shape resembles that lazy, fat fellow in Farmer Brown's barnyard when he was little. You would know him for a Pig right away if you should see him. But in every other way excepting his habit of rooting up the ground with his nose, he is a wholly different fellow. For one thing his legs, though short, are more slender and he is a fast runner. There isn't a lazy bone in him, and he is too active to grow fat.
"His head is large and his nose long, and his tail is almost no tail at all; it is just a little rounded knob, as if he had at one time had a tail and it had been cut off. His hair is coarse and stiff, the kind of hair called bristles. From the back of his head along his back the bristles are long and stout. They are black at the tips so that he appears to have a black back. When Piggy is angry he raises these long bristles so that they stand straight up and this gives him a very fierce appearance.
"His color is so dark a gray that at a distance he appears black. Indeed he is black on many parts of him. Just back of the neck a whitish band crosses the shoulders, and this is why he is called the Collared Peccary. You see he seems to be wearing a collar. On each jaw are two great pointed teeth called tusks, the two upper ones so long that they project beyond the lips. These tusks are Piggy's weapons, and very good ones they are.
"The home of Piggy the Peccary is in the hot southwestern part of this country, where live Jaguar and Ocelot, the beautiful spotted members of the Cat family. They are two of his enemies. He never likes to be alone, but lives with a band of his friends and they roam about together. He is found on the plains and among low hills, in swamps and dense forests, and among the thickets of cactus and other thorny plants that grow in dry regions. Plenty of food and shelter from the hot sun seem to be the main things with Piggy."
"What does he eat?" asked Peter Rabbit.
Old Mother Nature laughed. "It would be easier, Peter, to tell you what he doesn't eat," said she. "He eats everything eatable, nuts, fruits, seeds, roots and plants of various kinds, insects, Frogs, Lizards, Snakes and any small animals he can catch. Sometimes he does great damage to gardens and crops planted by man. He delights to root in the earth with his nose and often turns over much ground in this way, searching for roots good to eat.
"On the lower part of his back he carries a little bag of musky scent, and from this he gets the name of Muskhog. While as a rule he wisely runs from danger, he is no coward, and will fight fiercely when cornered. His friends at once rush to help him and surround the enemy, who is usually glad to climb a tree to escape their gnashing tusks. However, he is not the fierce animal he has been reported to be, ready to attack unprovoked. He will run away if he can. Mr. and Mrs. Peccary have two babies at a time.
"This is the last of the hoofed animals and the last but one of the land animals of this great country, so you see we are almost to the end of school. This last one is perhaps the queerest of all. It is Hardshell the Armadillo, and belongs to the order of Edentata, which means toothless."
"Do you mean to say that there are animals with no teeth at all?" asked Happy Jack Squirrel, looking as if he couldn't believe such a thing.
Old Mother Nature nodded. "That is just what I mean," said she. "There are animals without any teeth, though not in this country, and others with so few teeth that they have been put in the same order with the wholly toothless ones. Hardshell the Armadillo is one of these. He has no teeth at all in the front of his mouth and such teeth as he has got do not amount to much."
"But why do you call him Hardshell?" asked Peter impatiently.
"Because instead of a coat of fur he wears a coat of shell," replied Old Mother Nature, and then laughed right out at the funny expressions on the faces before her. It was quite clear that Peter and his friends were having hard work to believe she was in earnest. They suspected her of joking.
"Do—do you mean that he lives in a sort of house that he carries with him like Spotty the Turtle?" ventured Peter.
"It is a shell, but not like that of Spotty," explained Old Mother Nature. "Spotty's shell is all one piece, but the Armadillo's shell is jointed, so that he can roll up like a ball. Spotty isn't a mammal, as are all of you and all those we have been learning about, but is a reptile. Hardshell the Armadillo, on the other hand, is a true mammal."
"Well, all I can say is that he must be a mighty queer looking fellow," declared Peter.
"He is," replied Old Mother Nature. "He is about the size of Unc' Billy Possum, and if you can imagine a pig of about that size with very short legs, a long tapering tail, feet with toes and long claws and a shell covering his whole body, the front of his face and even his tail, you will have something of an idea what he looks like.
"He lives down in the hot Southwest where Piggy the Peccary lives. His coat of shell is yellowish in color and is divided in the middle of his body into nine narrow bands or joints. Because of this he is called the Nine-banded Armadillo. In the countries to the south of this he has a cousin with three bands and another with six.
Hardshell's head is very long and he carries it pointed straight down. His small eyes are set far back, and at the top of his head are rather large upright ears. The shell of his tail is divided into many jointed rings so that he can move it at will.
"His tongue is long and sticky. This is so that he can run it out for some distance and sweep up the Ants and insects on which he largely lives. His eyesight and hearing are not very good, and having such a heavy, stiff coat he is a poor runner. But he is a good digger. This means, of course, that he makes his home in a hole in the ground. When frightened he makes for this, but if overtaken by an enemy he rolls up into a ball and is safe from all save those with big and strong enough teeth to break through the joints of his shell. He eats some vegetable matter and is accused of eating the eggs of ground-nesting birds, and of dead decayed flesh he may find. However, his food consists chiefly of Ants, insects of various kinds, and worms. He is a harmless little fellow and interesting because he is so queer. He is sometimes killed and eaten by man and his flesh is considered very good. He has from four to eight babies in the early spring. The baby Armadillo has a soft, tough skin instead of a shell, and as it grows it hardens until by the time it is fully grown it has become a shell.
"Now this finishes the lessons about the land animals or mammals.
There are other mammals who live in the ocean, which is the salt
water which surrounds the land, and which, I guess, none of you
have ever seen. Some of these come on
shore and some never do.
"We do! Of course we do!" cried Peter Rabbit, and it is plain that he spoke for all.