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Nine-Banded Armadillo

(Dasypus novemcinctus)

Armadillo

Range

The armadillo roams through warm climates including rain forests, grasslands, and semi-arid regions/deserts of North and South America. The armadillo has a very low body temperature and little fat; it can die in cold regions. Found mostly in temperate climates that suit its metabolism, its highest population occurs in Texas. The Nine-Banded Armadillo has been expanding its range both north and east within the United States. It is well-established in Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida.

Diet

The armadillo is an omnivore. The armadillo’s diet consists of termites, ants, worms, beetles and other insects. They also will eat bird eggs, fruit, berries and various vegetable crops.

Description

The armadillo is a strange looking mammal. Covered in a protective shell, it is a slow mover until it is in danger, and then it picks up its pace. It is normally most active at night, but when temperatures are cool will hunt for food during the warmer daylight hours.

Physical Characteristics

  • Bony plates cover the head, back and legs
  • Yellow/White hair on stomach
  • Long, tapered-tail covered with bony rings, 5 to 19' in length
  • Pointed ears
  • Pointy snout (nose)
  • Small eyes
  • Long, sticky tongue
  • Strong legs
  • Front legs have four toes with claws
  • Back legs have five toes with claws
  • Body size ranges in length 15 - 23" plus tail length
  • Weight 10 to 22 lbs
  • Color brownish, tan
  • Approx. 30 peg shaped teeth

Behavior & Lifecycle

With very poor eyesight, armadillos rely on their sense of smell to hunt. They can detect a meal up to six inches underground. Their long, sticky tongues help them scoop up insects easily. They use their strong legs and claws to dig up ant nests to feed on, and to dig burrows for habitats.

The armadillo walks at a very slow speed, but can run when pursued by predators. They walk on their front claws and the soles of their hind legs.

Good swimmers, armadillos gulp air to make their bodies float in water, countering the weight of their heavy shells. This process fills their stomachs with enough air to enable them to swim vs. walk underwater. The armadillo can choose to walk across the bottom of a stream or small river underwater while holding its breath.

When not foraging for food, the armadillo is holed up in one of its burrows sleeping. These mammals can sleep up to 16 hours a day. They often have up to 15 burrows over their range. Some are up to 5' underground, and anywhere from only a couple of feet to 25’ long or more. Several entrances on each of the burrows create options for escape from predators.

Armadillos are loners and don’t travel or live in groups. They mark their territories with urine, feces and bodily excretions. The females tend to have more defined territory than the males.

Mating season is in the summer for the armadillo, occurring in adults more than a year old. Mating occurs during the months of July and August in North America and November to January in South America.

During mating, only a single egg is fertilized. The gestation period is approximately 4 months. The female armadillo can control when the egg is fertilized, delaying pregnancy for several months or years if needed. Normally this is done when the female armadillo is under stress. A female armadillo can give birth to four identical babies at one time from a single fertilized egg. Babies are born with soft shells that harden over time. They remain in the burrow during the first few months of life and are fed by the mother’s milk for about 3 months. After this time they will begin foraging with their mother and then set out on their own anywhere from 6 months to a year after they are born. The lifespan of an armadillo is 12 to 15 years.

Predators

Armadillos rely on their armored shell as a defense mechanism against predators. Only one (the three-banded armadillo) of the 20 varieties of armadillos can roll into a ball and encase itself inside its shell as a method of self-defense. The armadillo retreats under pricky underbrush to ward off predators; their shells protect them from thorns and sharp branches which may deter other animals.

An armadillo’s predators include: coyotes, bears, cougars, other wildcats, wolves, dogs and humans. Many armadillos are killed by cars or hunted by humans. Their meat tastes like pork. They have been called “poor man’s pig.”

Interesting Facts

  • Armadillos are the only mammals to have external bony plates.
  • The armadillo is the only animal that can carry and spread leprosy. Humans can too.
  • The armadillo is the state animal of Texas.
  • The female armadillo is the only mammal that can give birth to four identical babies with one egg.
  • An armadillo can hold its breath for up to six minutes.
  • Armadillos are sometimes hunted for their meat, which tastes like pork.
  • The name armadillo comes from the Spanish word “armado” which translates as “one that is armed.”

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