Armadillos Armadillos belong to the order ‘Cingulata’. They are related to Anteaters and Sloths (superorder Xenarthra) who belong to the order ‘Pilosa’. Both groups are unique in having a double vena cava vein in the lower part of the body and additional moving joints called ‘xenarthrales’ on the lower lumbar vertebrae. The two groups can be separated in that Armadillos have an armoured upper body and Anteaters and Sloths have fur.
There are around 20 species of Armadillo found in North and South America in various habitats from tropical rainforests to dry savannas and grasslands.
The name Armadillo is spanish and means ‘little armoured one’. The most common and populated Armadillo is the Nine-banded Armadillo (Dasypus novemcinctus) who has extended its range in Central America due to lack of natural predators.
Armadillos are small placental mammals that measure between 13 – 150 centimetres and weigh between 85 grams – 54 kilograms depending on species.
The largest is the Giant Armadillo (Priodontes maximus) at 89 centimetres in length of which a third is its tail, weighing typically 28 kilograms and dark brown in colour and the smallest is the Pink Fairy Armadillo (Chlamyphorus truncatus) at 90 – 115 millimetres in length and pink/pale rose in colour. Other species measure somewhere in between and can be coloured black, red, grey or yellow. Some Armadillos can be distinguished by the number of bands that are present on their armour.
The Brazilian Three-banded Armadillo (Tolypeutes tricinctus) and the Southern Three-banded Armadillo (Tolypeutes matacus) are the only species who can roll themselves into a ball.
They measure between 41 – 53 centimetres in length, have stout tails and sharp claws.They are compact animals with a rear plate, a front plate and three movable plates in the middle which allow them to roll into a tight ball, a highly effective form of defence against predators. Other species of Armadillo rely on their armour for protection.
An Armadillos armour is made from dermal bone which is covered in small, over-lapping epidermal scales called ‘scutes’. Their under parts are covered in soft skin and fur. Armadillos have very sharp claws which they use to dig for food and to make their burrows with. Although Armadillos have under-developed vision, they rely heavily on their acute sense of smell for seeking out insects and other prey.
Just like Anteaters, Armadillos have a very long, sticky tongue which they use to capture ants and termites. They have short, stout legs with 5 clawed toes on their hind feet and 3 – 5 clawed toes on the forefeet. Armadillos have a large number of peg-like cheek teeth which they use to crush the exoskeletons of insects. They have pointed snouts, small eyes and small ears.
Armadillos have a wide variety of warm habitats depending on species. Habitats can range from tropical rainforests to grasslands, dry deserts and savannas. Armadillos do not like cold weather because of their low metabolic rate and their lack of fat stores.
Most Armadillos are omnivores. Different Armadillo species have different diets. Some eat insects, grubs, plants, fruit and small invertebrates, however, a majority feed entirely on ants and termites (formicivorous). Armadillos usually forage for food in the early mornings and evenings.
Armadillos are solitary, mostly nocturnal animals that do not share their burrows with other adult Armadillos. Armadillos tend to sleep for long periods up to 16 hours per day. Armadillos are very good swimmers having a very efficient dog-paddle and they can remain underwater for around 6 minutes. For the Armadillo to be able to swim, it has to inflate its stomach and intestines with air otherwise it would just sink due to the weight of its armour. They can also jump around 3 feet straight up into the air when alarmed. Armadillos mark their territories with secretions from their face, feet and rear.
Depending on species, the gestation period of the female Armadillo can last anywhere between 60 – 120 days. In some species such as the Nine-banded Armadillo, delayed implantation occurs whereby the young are not born until 8 months after mating takes place. This aids their ability to colonize new areas. Female Armadillos give birth to 4 identical infants of the same sex, which is not known of any other animal. All 4 infants develop from the same egg and share the same placenta. Infant Armadillos do not have armour, instead they have a soft leathery skin which hardens as it grows. Infants are weaned at around 10 weeks. Armadillos reach sexual maturity at between 3 – 12 months. The life span of an Armadillo is around 15 years in captivity.
Armadillo Conservation Status
Armadillos are classed as a ‘Threatened’ species except for the Nine-banded Armadillo whose population is expanding. Major threats are habitat loss and over-hunting. Armadillo flesh is consumed in the Americas by some cultures.
Here are some more Armadillo species and some general information about them.
Andean Hairy Armadillo (Chaetophractus nationi) – present in Bolivia, in the region of the Puna. This Armadillo has 18 bands of which 8 are movable. They are coloured yellow/light brown. They have a body length of between 8 – 15 inches and a tail length of 3 – 6 inches. It lives in grasslands at high altitudes.
Their omnivorous diet includes small vertebrates such as birds and reptiles and it also eats insects, roots, seeds and fruit. During hot weather, this species is active at night and active during the day when weather is cooler. Burrows can be as long as 10 feet in length. They are solitary except during breeding season which is during the summer months.
Gestation period is 2 months. Two young are born in the burrows. Females can have multiple litters per year. Males do not help to raise the young. Sexual maturity is reached at around 9 months. They have a life span of up to 16 years. Andean Hairy Armadillos are an endangered species.
Brazilian Three-banded Armadillo (Tolypeutes tricinctus) – endemic to Brazil, South America. One of only 2 species of Armadillo that can roll itself into a ball. Preferred habitat is savannas and dry woodland. Main diet includes ants and termites. Also eats mollusks, worms, fruit and carrion. It has a long sticky tongue to lap up ants.
Weight is 1.5 kilograms and body length 41 – 53 centimetres. Armoured upper parts and long course hair on under parts. Solitary animals but will occasionally travel in family groups of up to 3 members. They are nocturnal animals but have been known to forage during the day. Breeding season is from October to January.
Gestation period lasts 120 days after which a single, blind infant is born. Infants are able to roll into balls within a few hours of birth. Infants are weaned at 10 weeks and reach sexual maturity at 9 – 12 months. Life span is up to 15 years in the wild. Brazilian Three-banded Armadillos are classed as a ‘Vulnerable’ species.
Greater Naked-tailed Armadillo (Cabassous tatouay) – found in Argentina, Bolivia, Peru, Uruguay, Brazil and Paraguay (South America). It has a body length of 63.5 centimetres and weighs 5.40 kilograms. This species resembles the Giant Armadillo but lacks the armour on their tails. Usually found along rivers and on grasslands. They are nocturnal animals who forage for food at night. When threatened, they are able to bury themselves within minutes. They make a grunting sound similar to a pig when handled. Their diet consists mainly of ants but they also consume invertebrates found in anthills and termite mounds. Females give birth to one infant per year. Life span is 12 – 15 years.
Pink Fairy Armadillo (Chlamyphorus truncatus) – found in central Argentina. This Armadillo is the smallest of the species. It has a body length of 4 – 5 inches long and weighs 120 grams. It has very small eyes and ears and has long silky hair on its under parts and is coloured pink/pale rose. Its preferred habitat is dry grasslands and sandy plains with thorny bush and cacti. Its main diet is ants and ant larvae. Their burrows are usually made close to ant nests. This Armadillo has the ability to bury itself in seconds if alarmed. Females give birth to one infant, sometimes twins. They have a life span of 5 – 10 years. The Pink Fairy Armadillo is listed as an endangered species.
Screaming Hairy Armadillo (Chaetophractus vellerosus) – found in Argentina, Bolivia, Chile and Paraguay. Head and body length of this animal is from 220 to 400 millimetres and their weight is 84 kilograms on average. The length of its tail is from 90 to 175 millimetres. This species has a total of 18 bands with 6 – 8 movable bands and they have more hair growth than other Armadillo species. Their limbs and under parts have light brown and white hairs. It is a solitary, nocturnal animal foraging for food during the night.
Diets consists mainly of insects and plants (omnivore), however, during the summer it will also feed up on lizards, snakes and rodents. Gestation period is is 60 – 75 days. Two litter per year are produced. Sexual maturity is reached at 9 months. Its name is derived from the high pitched squeal it makes when threatened.