Armadillos are literally living dinosaurs, left over from previous eras, and the only mammals on the earth that have their own built-in suit of armour. They mostly look rather like a giant woodlouse – some species being more gigantic (by comparison) than others. Among the amazing Armadillo facts is how such animal was created with all degree of sophistication and in such a way that in the recently overwhelming tech-world, you can easily mistake the looks of this nature’s ingenuity for a robotic toy produced in one of America’s high-tech laboratories. The image above depicts a “fully armored” Armadillo and if you are still looking for some amazing armadillo facts, here are 20 interesting facts about armadillos.
Armadillo Facts – Naming
1 – There are around 20 or so living species of armadillo, almost all of which are named, with a staggering lack of imagination, for aspects of their appearance. Most of these are pretty ordinary, e.g the ‘Northern Naked-tailed’, Cabassous Centralis, ‘Southern Three-banded’, Tolypeutes matacus, ‘Big Hairy’ (yes, really!), Chaetophractus Vilosus and ‘Giant’, Priodontes Maximus. However, some of them do grab the attention slightly more, such as the ‘Screaming Hairy’, Chaetophractus Vellerosus, and the ‘Pink Fairy’, Chlamyphorus Truncatus!
2 – Continuing the tendency towards literal names, the word ‘Armadillo’ itself means ‘little armoured thing’ and was applied by the Spanish explorers who first discovered America.
3 – In 1995, the ‘Nine-banded’ armadillo was named the official state small mammal of Texas, and it has been nicknamed the ‘hillbilly speed bump’ or, in Texas, the ‘Texas speed bump’. It is also eaten, especially during times of depression such as the 1920’s, when it was known as a ‘Hoover Hog’ (because of President Hoover’s failure to keep meat on the table otherwise).
Armadillo Facts – Habitat
4 – The population of ‘Nine-banded’ armadillos is increasing because it is spreading into North America, but the others are decreasing and some are rated as anything from ‘near threatened’ to almost extinct (usually ‘data deficient’ because there are so few not much is known about them). This is mostly because of human encroachment – through habitat destruction, poaching, hunting, mining etc.
5 – All species are native to South America, although two, the ‘Northern Naked-Tailed’ and the ‘Nine-banded’ (or ‘Long-nosed’), Dasypus Novemcinctus, have migrated into Central America. The ‘Nine-banded’ has moved as far north as Florida, Texas and South Carolina and is still going. The country with the most different species is Paraguay, which has eleven, but the greatest expansion has been in North America, where a lack of natural predators means they have spread out quite quickly.
6 – Most armadillos live in areas of soft, moist earth or sand which is easy to dig into, both for food and to create burrows for safety. They will dig many bolt-holes, complete with connecting tunnels, and each with several entrances, in order to have the best chance of getting away from threats.
Armadillo Facts – Characteristics
7 – Armadillos come in many different sizes, from the smallest, the ‘Pink Fairy’ at about 5 inches (13 cm) long and 85 g in weight, to the largest, not surprisingly the ‘Giant’, at up to five foot (150 cm) long and around 60 kg (132 lb).
8 – Although nearly blind and deaf, armadillos have no trouble working out what’s going on around them because they have a great sense of smell, with which they can smell things that are up to 20cm (9 inches) underground. They also use the long straggly fur on their undersides to feel what’s there – rather like a cat uses its whiskers.
9 – One characteristic armadillos share with anteaters is a low body temperature of around 33-36ºC (91-97ºF) and equivalently slow metabolic rates, sometimes less than half that of other similar-sized mammals. This is because they don’t get much more than a minimum of energy from their food and therefore waste less of it when resting if they are cooler, only warming up to get moving.
10 – Armadillos can hold their breath for as much as six minutes, and because of the weight of their armour they can actually walk along the bottom of any body of water if they so wish. However, they can swim quite well when they want to, and to do so they have a trick of ‘swallowing air’ to inflate their stomachs, giving them a temporary buoyancy for long enough to cross narrow ditches and streams.
11 – Armadillos’ diets usually consist mostly of grubs and insects, which they dig for using their long claws, and some are like anteaters and only eat ants and termites. However, most will eat small amphibians and reptiles, frogs, beetles, larvae, even small ground-nesting birds and their eggs, given the chance. Unlike anteaters, what’s more, they do have teeth, albeit with no enamel and therefore not very efficient!
12 – In captivity, armadillos live around 12-15 years, but in the wild are believed to live only about 5-7 years. Of that time, these nocturnal animals can spend around 18 hours a day asleep.
Armadillo Facts – Defense
13 – Armadillo armour consists of small epidermal scales made of horn-covered bone, overlapping for protection, which are based on plates of dermal bone. It usually covers the animal with a rigid section from the top of the head and front legs down to the midsection, and again over the hips, back legs and sometimes the tail, and the two sections are joined by a number of individual bands joined by skin, that allow some flexibility.
14 – Only the ‘Three-banded’ armadillo is capable of rolling into a complete armoured ball for protection, with the head and tail armour filling the small gap in the middle – and this ball is so perfectly formed and complete that the animal can literally be rolled along the ground, and even dogs can’t break it open.
15 – The main cause of ‘Nine-banded’ armadillo road deaths is not, as would usually be the case, because they have been hit by the wheels of a car. It’s because this species tends to jump vertically into the air when startled, up to three or four feet, and in so doing collides with fenders and undercarriages of the passing vehicles.
16 – Apart from the above, however, most armadillos’ main defense is to run – usually into one of its burrows, or straight into a thorny patch of some sort where its armour protects it and the predator can’t follow – or to dig to safety, if it has time. Despite their short legs, they can run quite fast in short bursts!
Armadillo Facts – Reproduction
17 – The ‘Nine-banded’ armadillo produces exactly four babies every time they give birth – and these will always be identical quadruplets, because they are formed by the splitting of a single fertilised egg. The other armadillo species don’t exhibit this trait, and can have anything from one to eight babies in a litter, but ‘bringing up baby(s)’ is the only time an armadillo will share its burrow – otherwise they are totally solitary animals.
18 – The Nine-banded Armadillo also makes use of delayed gestation, where the young do not begin developing immediately. They are usually born about eight months after fertilization, but it is believed that it can be as much as two years later.
19 – The babies are born with soft leathery skin that hardens after a few weeks, and they will be sexually mature in a year at most, quite a bit less with some species.
And finally … A Modern Day ‘Typhoid Mary’?!
20 – Armadillos are one of the few animals other than humans that can carry leprosy – and the only one that can contract it. Their low body temperature, which the bacteria Mycobacterium leprae likes, makes them particularly susceptible. Mind you, since humans brought leprosy to the Americas and the armadillos come from there, it’s we human’s fault they have it, not the other way around. There is a very small chance that they could spread the disease to humans, usually by eating undercooked armadillo meat, which might be a worry if there was no cure – but since there is, you can relax.