Armadillos join the flock at National Aviary

Armadillo and penguins

Willy and Wonka are available to meet fans in private Armadillo Encounters at the National Aviary on the North Side. 

For $40, people can have a 30-minute encounter with the little armor-plated mammals. Meeting with the media this week, Willy scooted rapidly around an education room, checking out cameras and journalists, accepting snacks of frozen crickets from some of them.

Willy and Wonka, who are Southern three-banded armadillos, have been known to walk right up to guests at encounters. They were named for the movie about a chocolate factory because their habitat is South America, where cocoa beans are grown. The species is threatened in the wild.

Willy, born last spring, has been living in the Avian Care Center window across from the Penguin’s Point habitat. Earlier this week Willy moved out to make way for the African penguin chicks that were hatched  Dec. 16 and 20.

The chicks born to Sidney and Bette will be the centerpiece for “chick talks” every day at 2 p.m. The successful penguin breeding program at the aviary is part of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums Species Survival Plan because African penguins are endangered in the wild.

Willy and Wonka will go public starting March 3, when they make appearances in a new free-flight show, “Amazing Amazon.” The show also includes Valentino the sloth. Cost is $5 in addition to the general admission charge of $15 for adults and $14 for children ages 2-12.

To make a reservation for an Armadillo Encounter, call 412-258-9445. 

— Linda Wilson Fuoco, Post-Gazette