A-z - Animals

armadillo

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"The armadillo is the only known mammal with a fully developed shell."

An armadillo is like an armored car, equipped with powerful protection against predators and predators that cannot pierce the tough outer skin. This natural defense has allowed the creature to thrive in the Western Hemisphere for millions of years. Few mammals can match its sheer resilience and ability to survive.

Armadillo infographic

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Incredible Armadillo Facts

  • The armored shell consists of overlapping scales called scutes . These scales are made of keratin, a protein also found in hair and nails. Evidence suggests that this keratin is actually just modified skin that evolved for defensive protection.
  • Armadillos are animals that are naturally susceptible to many human diseases, including leprosy.
  • In human society, armadillos are animals traditionally used as food, clothing and even musical instruments, and they are symbolic creatures in many different cultures. Rudyard Kipling brought the animal to greater attention around the world in the short story "The Origin of the Armadillo" in his 1902 children's book "That's the Story" , in which it is described as a symbol of intelligence.
  • About 20 million years ago, a group of giant armadillos with pointed club tails roamed the Americas. Officially known as glyptodons , they are believed to be as large as a Volkswagen Beetle. Despite their huge size, they are actually herbivores without canines. They appear to have died out around the last ice age, more than 10,000 years ago.
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scientific name

armadillo
Armadillos are relatively fast.

©mariamalaya/Shutterstock.com

The word armadillo is derived from Spanish and means "little animal in armor," which is how Spanish colonialists and explorers came across this unusual creature as they traveled across the Americas. The Aztecs had their own name for this creature: ayotochin , which means tortoise and hare.

Modern armadillos belong to the order Cingulata , which is a Latin word meaning girdle. This order is believed to have originated about 60 million years ago, when South America was more isolated from the North American continent. The entire order used to be more diverse, containing a large number of different armored animals.



Today, only two major armadillo subfamilies remain: Chlamyphoridae and Dasypodidae . Of the two, the Chlamyphoridae are the most numerous. Only one genus remains of Dasypodidae, although it contains the widespread nine-banded armadillo. Even further out, armadillos are related to anteaters and sloths.

Origin and Evolution

Is an armadillo a mammal?
The armored appearance of the nine-banded armadillo makes it look like a reptile, but the nearly hairless animal is a mammal.

©iStock.com/6381380

Armadillos (order Cingulata) form the superorder Xenarthra along with sloths and anteaters (order Pilosa). These animals first evolved about 50 million years ago in what is now South America.

Armadillo ancestors glyptodon and panocthus were quite large and had hard shells compared to today's armadillos. You may have seen glyptodonts in the movie Ice Age, where they were depicted as being the size of a Volkswagen Beetle. Although modern armadillos have shrunk in size, they still have the same protective shells as their ancient relatives.

Thanks to their protective bony armor, armadillos thrived until a land bridge connecting North and South America came along. This allowed the big canine and feline predators to move south and hunt down the native animals, causing 70% of them to become extinct. Although armadillo shells are made of bone, they are thin enough that even a medium-sized dog can easily crack open them.

The armadillo has proven to be a remarkably resilient species, surviving the introduction of North American predators and even expanding its territory as far north as the Ohio Valley. An example of this species is the beautiful armadillo, which was nearly identical to the nine-banded armadillo we know today, but much larger. Its scale fossils have been found in the American Midwest.

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About 11,000 years ago, armadillos in North America ceased to exist for unknown reasons. They reappeared near the Rio Grande in the mid-1800s and gradually migrated to the southeastern and midwestern United States. Unfortunately, their growth is hampered by their poor tolerance to cold temperatures and lack of fat, which makes them prone to freezing, even briefly, when exposed to cold temperatures. Nonetheless, they have no problem migrating to warmer climates and are believed to number between 300 and 50 million in the United States.

appearance

Top 10 Shell Animals - Armadillos
Armadillos have long tails and sharp claws for digging.

©iStock.com/Ondrej Prosicky

Armadillos look a bit like armored possums (though not related), with pointy noses, short legs, long tails, sharp claws, and large ears. These animals are often known for their rather plain gray or brown appearance, but in fact, some armadillos come in shades of pink, red or even yellow. They also vary greatly in size. The smallest is the pink fairy armadillo, which is only 5 inches long, while the largest is the giant armadillo, which is an impressive 59 inches long and weighs 120 pounds. This is the size of some big dogs. Giant armadillos also have as many as 100 teeth and six-inch-long claws.

shell

The armadillo's most distinctive feature is its scaly shell, which provides armor-like protection against predators. Armor covers most of the head and body, and sometimes the legs as well. Despite common misconceptions, only one species, the three-banded armadillo, can roll into a ball. Other species use sharp claws to dig deep into the ground to protect their softer parts from damage when threatened by predators. The number of armor bands on the shell varies from species to species. In fact, many species are named after band numbers.

Behavior

Armadillo walking on a dirt road
A nine-banded armadillo in a green swamp in central Florida.

© Tomfriedel/Creative Commons

Armadillos are very talented diggers. Using their sharp claws, they can dig huge burrows in the ground that serve as a safe and comfortable home where they grow foliage and vegetation and sleep up to 16 hours a day. In fact, they are such skilled diggers that their abandoned burrows are sometimes occupied by snakes, rabbits, skunks, rats, and many other animals. Other potential sources of armadillo nests include hollow logs and long grass or shrubs.

The ability to dig has another important use: it's the primary means of locating food underground. This is thanks to their excellent sense of smell, which more than makes up for their relatively poor eyesight. They can easily sniff out hidden food that most animals can't see. Additionally, the long hairs that grow on their skin (though not their shells) allow them to grope their way through tight crevices and enclosed environments. Like the anteater, the armadillo has an extremely long tongue that allows it to suck its prey and hide deep underground.

Armadillo social arrangements are very flexible and may change depending on the situation. Most of the time, they enjoy a solitary life, especially when they come out to hunt and forage at night (they are mostly nocturnal). But they sometimes come together for several different reasons. The number one reason for gathering together is to find a mate for the breeding season. The second reason is that they often huddle in their burrows to keep warm when it's cold. They are extremely intolerant to cold due to their low average body temperature and low metabolic rate. For this reason, a prolonged cold can be a death sentence.

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Read here to find out if armadillos are dangerous.

Habitat

Six-banded armadillo (Euphractus sexcinctus) eating
Armadillos live in Central and South America and the United States.

© Giedriius/Shutterstock.com

Armadillos are almost exclusively endemic to Central and South America. The only exception is the nine-banded species, which is also found in the United States. Africa, Eurasia, and Australia are completely devoid of them. The greatest variation of this species is found in the Paraguay region. This is because it evolved in South America and only slowly migrated to other parts of the hemisphere. As the climate warms, armadillos will likely continue to expand north into the northern United States and Canada.

Armadillos live in grasslands, rainforests, wetlands, and semi-deserts of the Americas. These ecosystems provide plenty of sandy or loose soil for easy digging and digging. However, due to their diverse diets, these organisms are able to survive in a large number of different ecosystems and habitats.

population

Is an armadillo a baby mammal?
Armadillos give birth to live young. They usually have litters of up to 15 young armadillos. Their children are called puppies.

© Rose Waddell/Shutterstock.com

While exact numbers are still unknown, armadillos as a group appear to be in relatively healthy condition. Most species are classified as least of concern according to the IUCN Red List, but some are facing the prospect of dramatic declines. Both the giant armadillo and the Brazilian three-banded armadillo are endangered. Population numbers may be declining due to the destruction of natural habitats across South America. Conservationists have focused their efforts on reducing habitat loss and deliberate deaths from hunting and poisoning.

diet

Insect-eating animals - naked-tailed armadillos
Northern naked-tailed armadillos spend most of their time in underground tunnels, feeding mainly on ants and termites.

©Yara Oliveira/Shutterstock.com

Armadillos have adapted to rely on a nearly inexhaustible food source, spending most of the day foraging for invertebrates and larvae. Ants and termites seem to be the favorite food of many armadillos, but they will also eat beetles, cockroaches, wasps, spiders, snails, scorpions, and more. Other food sources include fruit, plants, eggs, small reptiles and amphibians, and carrion.

With no sharp incisors or canines, their teeth are short and flat, perfect for eating small, crunchy animals and plants. Coupled with their long tongues, armadillos can consume a lot of food every day. They are often helpful to humans because they kill insects and pests that can harm crops. Armadillos, however, will burrow around in the dirt, inadvertently damaging crops. For this reason, some farmers consider them a nuisance.

predator

jaguar
Jaguars move at high speeds, up to 80 mph, and can easily catch and eat armadillos.

©Sergey Uryadnikov/Shutterstock.com

Armadillos face danger from a variety of predators, including jaguars, coyotes, bobcats, wolves, bears, great eagles, and other birds of prey. The armored shell is obviously its primary means of defense. If that fails, it may try to lash out with sharp claws, play dead, or simply run away. Although it doesn't look like it, an armadillo is actually an agile running and jumping capable of quick escapes. One species of armadillo, the nine-banded armadillo, can actually float its entire body on water by inhaling enough air.

Throughout human history, these animals have often been hunted for food sources or body parts, especially in South America. During the Great Depression, they were sometimes a last resort for desperate and hungry people. Those who blame the president for the economic struggle describe them as "Hoover pigs."

Armadillos are also vulnerable to many other types of human activity, including road accidents, poisoning or extinction. The greatest persistent threat is the loss of South American rainforests, wetlands and other habitats. The armadillo is resilient and able to adapt to many different situations, but it is gradually being driven out of its natural habitat.

Reproduction, Babies and Longevity

Pink Fairy Armadillo (Chlamyphorus truncatus)
Armadillos can have up to 15 babies at a time.

© Cliff / CC BY 2.0 – License

Armadillo breeding season varies by species and region. Some armadillos breed year-round, while others only breed at certain times of the year. Males rely on a strong sense of smell to find potential mates. One is the yellow armadillo or six-banded armadillo, which has a really elaborate courtship ritual where the female runs away from the male suitor. After the fastest male catches up to her, they will mate even if the female continues to run.

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There are other unique and bizarre aspects of armadillo anatomy and reproduction. For example, males have the largest ratio of penis size to body length of any mammal. Females also have the ability to delay egg implantation after mating until food is more abundant. Compared to other mammals of similar size, armadillos are truly prolific breeders. Seven-banded armadillos can produce 8 to 15 identical babies or young at a time. Nine-banded armadillos can give birth to four identical babies. However, some species may only have one or two young at a time.

Once conceived, the baby develops rapidly. After a gestation period of two to five months, the pups are born. At first, their skin is soft and fragile, but within a few weeks they grow hard armor. They are then weaned over a period of two to four months. Within a year, they reach full sexual maturity and are ready to venture out on their own.

Depending on the species, armadillos live between 4 and 30 years. They are known to live longer in captivity. However, some species may not be suitable for captivity and tend not to live very long in zoos or wildlife centers.

in the zoo

  • Several three-banded armadillos serve as animal ambassadors at the San Diego Zoo, where they greet guests and make TV appearances.
  • Armadillos can also be found at the Louisville Zoo, Smithsonian's National Zoo, and Zoo Atlanta.
  • Armadillos are also exported to non-endemic Eurasian and Australian zoos.

20 species of armadillos

Top 10 Shell Animals - Armadillos
There are 20 different species of armadillos.

© Ondrej Prosicky/Shutterstock.com

Armadillos are incredible creatures that originated in South America. Like humans, they are also mammals. Contrary to popular belief, armadillos are neither rodents nor marsupials, and are not related to opossums. There are twenty different species of armadillos. Here they come:

belongs to scientific name armadillo common name
sea anemone crabapple big fairy armadillo
psyllid Psyllid truncated Pink Fairy Armadillo
Cabasus Shako wood Chacoan naked-tailed armadillo
Cabasus tattoo large naked-tailed armadillo
Cabasus central pine Northern naked-tailed armadillo
Cabasus black pine Southern naked-tailed armadillo
Trichophyton Ethnic hairweed Andean woolly armadillo
Trichophyton Hair algae furry armadillo
Trichophyton Trichoweed small hairy armadillo
Big Sipes milk thistle Great Proboscis Armadillo
Big Sipes Arrowroot Hairy long-nosed armadillo
Big Sipes Echinacea Janos long-nosed armadillo
Big Sipes red dates nine-banded armadillo
Big Sipes horse chestnut seven-banded armadillo
Big Sipes milk thistle Southern long-nosed armadillo
Euphrates Hexagon six-banded armadillo
Longtooth Megalodon giant armadillo
Tolypeutes Trident Brazilian three-banded armadillo
Tolypeutes bullhead fish Southern three-banded armadillo
god of wealth bamboo fish dwarf armadillo

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At present, there are more than 20 kinds of armadillos in the world, most of which are distributed in South America. However, dozens of extinct species are recorded in the fossil record.

Armadillos can sometimes be a nuisance to humans, but if you wish to remove an armadillo from your property, you should contact your local wildlife service to do so in a safe and humane manner.

Armadillos pose little danger to humans, but they are sometimes carriers of disease, so you should try not to handle them yourself.

Armadillos can be timid and shy if not used to the presence of humans. They almost always keep their distance from people. If you see an armadillo, it's best to leave it alone.

Armadillos are omnivores, which means they eat both plants and other animals.

Armadillos belong to the animal kingdom.

Armadillos belong to the phylum Chordate.

Armadillos belong to the class Mammalia.

Armadillos belong to the Armadillo family.

Armadillos belong to the order Cingulata.

Armadillos belong to the genus Armadillo.

Armadillos are covered with bony plates.

Armadillos live in the United States.

Armadillos live in forests and grasslands.

Armadillos prey on insects, ants, and termites.

Predators of armadillos include bears, wolves, and coyotes.

Armadillos have armor-plated skin that can curl into a ball.

The average number of babies an armadillo has is 4.

The scientific name of the armadillo is Armadillo.

Armadillos can live from 4 to 12 years.

Armadillos can travel at speeds of up to 30 miles per hour.

The main differences between aardvarks and armadillos are their range of motion, body structure, defense mechanisms and order. The aardvark is native to Africa and belongs to the order Tubulidentata, while the armadillo belongs to the Cingulata and is mainly distributed in the Americas. The aardvark has short fur that covers the body, while the armadillo has a bony armor called the osseum around the body.