Armadillos mean “little armoured ones” in Spanish are New World placental mammals in the order of Cingulata.
The Chlamyphoridae and Dasypodidae are the only remaining families in the order that is part of the Xenarthra superorder, along with the anteaters and sloths.
Nine extinct genera and 21 living species of Armadillo have been described, some of which are differentiated by the number of bands on their armour.
All species are native to the Americas, where they live in a number of different habitats.
- Kingdom: Animalia
- Phylum: Chordata
- Class: Mammalia
- Superorder: Xenarthra
- Order: Cingulata
- Families: Chlamyphoridae, Dasypodidae
Armadillos are distinguished by a leathery armour shell and long, sharp claws for digging. They’ve got short legs, but they can run very quickly.
The average length of the Armadillo is approximately 75 cm (30 in including the tail. The giant Armadillo can grow up to 150 cm (59 in and weights up to 54 kg (119 lb), while the pink Armadillo has a length of just 13–15 cm (5–6 in).
When attacked by predators, the Tolypeutes species sometimes roll up into a ball (these being the only species of Armadillo capable of such).
All but one of the 20 species of Armadillo live in Latin America. The established nine-banded Armadillo is the only species that includes the United States in its range.
Armadillo refers to the bone plates that cover the back, arms, legs, and tail of most of these unusual looking animals. Armadillos are the only living mammals to carry such shells.
Closely related to anteaters and sloths, Armadillos typically have a pointed or shovel-shaped snout and small eyes. They differ greatly in size and colour, from the 6-inch-long, salmon-coloured pink Armadillo to the 5-foot-long, dark-brown Giant Armadillo. Others have black red, grey or yellowish colours.
Contrary to common opinion, not all armadillos are capable of encasing themselves in their shells. In fact, only the three-banded gundillo can, curling it’s head and back legs and turning its shell into a hard ball that confounds predators.
Habitat and diets
Armadillos live in temperate, tropical environments, including rainforests, grasslands and semi-deserts. As a result of their low metabolic rate and lack of fat reserves, the cold is their enemy, and intemperate weather can wipe out entire populations.
Most species dig burrows and sleep prolifically, up to 16 hours a day, foraging beetles, ants, termites and other insects early in the morning and evening. They have very poor eyesight, and they use their acute sense of smell to hunt.
Powerful legs and large front claws are used for digging and long, sticky tongues for removing ants and termites from their tunnels.
In addition to bugs, Armadillos consume small vertebrates, plants and some fruit, as well as an occasional carrion meal.
Armadillos are small to medium-sized rodents. The smallest species, the pink fairy armadillo, is approximately 85 g (3.0 oz) and 13–15 cm (5.1–5.9 in total length.
The largest species, the giant Armadillo, can grow to the size of a small pig and weigh up to 54 kg (119 lb) and can be 150 cm (59 in) tall.
They’re prolific diggers. Many animals use their sharp claws to dig for food, such as grubs, and dig dens. The nine-banded Armadillo tends to create burrows in moist soil near the ponds, streams, and arroyos around which it lives and eats.
Diets of various types of Armadillo vary but primarily consist of insects, grubs and other invertebrates. However, some species feed almost entirely on ants and termites.
Armadillos have very weak eyesight and use their acute sense of smell to search for food. They use their claws to dig and locate food, as well as to make their homes in burrows.
They use their claws to dig their burrows, making the width of the animal’s body a single hallway. They have five clawed toes on their hind legs, and three to five paws with strong claws on their forefoot.
Armadillos have multiple cheek teeth that are not separated into premolars and molars but typically have no incisors or canines. Nine-banded armadillo dentition is P 7/7, M 1/1 = 32.
As with other xenarthrans, armadillos typically have low body temperatures of 33–36 °C (91–97 °F) and low basal metabolic rates (40–60 per cent of the predicted weight of placental mammals).
This is especially true of the types that especially feed on termites as their primary food source (for example, Priodontes and Tolypeutes).
The armour is shaped by plates of the dermal bone protected by relatively thin, overlapping epidermal scales called ‘scuts,’ made up of bone with a horn coat.
Most animals have rigid shields over their shoulders and legs, with a variety of bands separated by flexible skin protecting their backs and flanks.
Additional armour protects the upper part of the head, the upper part of the limbs, and the tail. The underside of the animal is never armoured and is merely covered with soft skin and fur.
This armour-like skin tends to be the main protection of many armadillos, although most of them avoid predators by fleeing (often in thorny patches from which their armour protects them) or digging for cover.
Only the three-band South American Armadillos (Tolypeutes) depend heavily on their armour for protection.
When attacked by predators, the Tolypeutes species sometimes roll up into a ball. Other Armadillo types can’t roll up because they have so many plates.
The North American Nine-banded Armadillo appears to fly straight into the air when startled, thus frequently colliding with the undercarriage or fenders of the vehicles to their death.
Armadillos have small legs, but they can run very quickly. The nine-banded Armadillo is noted for its travel through water, which is achieved by two different methods: it can walk underwater for short distances, hold its breath for as long as six minutes; it is also capable of raising its buoyancy by swallowing food, inflating its stomach and intestines, through going through larger bodies of water.
The period of gestation is from 60 to 120 days, depending on the species. Still, the nine-banded Armadillo often has delayed implantation, because young people are not normally born for eight months after mating.
Most members of the Dasypus genus give birth to four young monozygotic (i.e. identical quadruplets), although other species can have average litter sizes ranging from one to eight.
Young armadillos are born with smooth, leathery skin that hardens within a few weeks. They can achieve sexual maturity in three to twelve months, depending on the species. Armadillos are solitary creatures who don’t share their burrows with other adults.