Genus: 8 genera
Species: 20 species
Body length: longest—giant armadillo Priodontes maximus, up to 39 inches (100 centimeters); shortest—pink fairy armadillo Chlamyphorus truncatus, 3 to 5 inches (8 to 12 centimeters)
Weight: heaviest—giant armadillo, up to 132 pounds (60 kilograms); lightest—pink fairy armadillo at 8 ounces (85 grams)
Life span: 4 to 30 years, depending on species
Gestation: 60 to 150 days, depending on species
Number of young at birth: 1 to 12 pups, depending on species
Age of maturity: 9 to 12 months
Conservation status: Bolivian hairy armadillo Chaetophractus nationi, armadillo lizard Cordylus cataphractus, hairy long-nosed armadillo Dasypus pilosus, giant armadillo, and Brazilian three-banded armadillo Tolypeutes tricinctus are vulnerable.
Armadillo is Spanish for “little armored thing.”
Part of the armadillo's family name Dasypodidae, dasypus, is Greek for "rabbit."
The screaming hairy armadillo Chaetophractus vellerosus gets its name from the sounds it makes when it feels threatened.
The nine-banded armadillo Dasypus novemcinctus has four identical pups in every litter.
Armadillos have peg-shaped teeth that don't have the protective coating called enamel.
The screaming hairy armadillo has been seen killing small snakes by throwing itself on top of the snake and cutting it with the edge of its shell.
The glyptodon was a prehistoric armadillo that was as big as a Volkswagen Beetle!
It's an open-and-shut case: the three-banded armadillo has a great way to protect its soft belly!
A mammal with a shell?
The armadillo is really strange looking. Although most armadillo species look like they have no hair, they do have wiry hairs on the sides and the belly. Some people refer to the hairs as “curb feelers,” since armadillos can feel their way around an area at night as the hairs touch objects.
The one thing that tells everyone they are looking at an armadillo is the roly-poly shell with "armored" bands. The number of bands depends on the species. The pleated look of most armadillos is made of these hardened, overlapping sections. Although the bands are tough like fingernails, the shell is flexible, with softer skin that expands and contracts between the bands. Armadillos also have long claws for digging and foraging for food. Their peg-shaped teeth crunch through the bodies of insects, an armadillo's favorite food.
Seven-banded armadillos dig burrows that may be 10 feet underground and up to 24 feet long.
There are 20 different species of armadillos. All are found in the Americas, and most live in Central or South America. Only one armadillo species is found in the United States, the nine-banded armadillo Dasypus novemcinctus. Because the body size and food source of the armadillo varies, so do the home range and habitat of each species. In fact, everything varies when you're talking about armadillos!
Typically, armadillos like wetlands with thick shade and sandy soil that is easy to dig in. But they are also found in thorn scrub, grasslands, and wooded areas. Armadillos burrow in grass, hollow logs, and sometimes underground.
The lesser hairy armadillo has hair that covers its back as well as its sides and belly.
From one extreme to the other
In the looks department, the nine-banded armadillo appears naked, while the pink fairy armadillo Chlamyphorus truncatus is mostly furry and has very little shell. In fact, it looks like a mole wearing a fancy, armored headdress and cape! In the size department, armadillos range in length from the pink fairy armadillo at 3 inches (8 centimeters) to the giant armadillo Priodontes maximus, which can be up to 5 feet (1.5 meters) long from head to tail and weigh up to 132 pounds (60 kilograms)!
Who would imagine this scaly ball is really a three-banded armadillo?
Activate protective shield
An armadillo's hard shell is simply modified skin that serves as one way this unusual animal protects itself. When an armadillo feels threatened, it usually runs, digs, and presses its body down in the dirt to keep from getting flipped over. The three-banded armadillo is the only species that can roll up into a ball for protection: its teardrop-shaped head plate seals the opening so there are no chinks in the "armor." Some threats to armadillos include domestic dogs, wild cats, birds of prey, and humans.
The three bands in the middle of the three-banded armadillo's shell have flexible skin in between each band.
The heat is on
The majority of armadillos are solitary most of the time. They constantly travel looking for food and always try to avoid danger. Sometimes, when the weather is cold, armadillos will group together in burrows, often making a large nest of leaves with grass inside. They are not good at staying warm on their own and really don’t seem to mind having others around. Seven-banded armadillos Dasypus septemcinctus sometimes share the burrow with several others of the same gender.
Armadillos are warm-blooded, but because they have a lower body temperature, not much body fat, and thin shells, they cannot maintain their internal temperature as most mammals do. This causes their behavior to change from season to season. For example, in hotter months, armadillos may be nocturnal, foraging at night when it is cooler and easy to move around. When the weather gets cooler, the same armadillo may start foraging earlier in the day, becoming more diurnal.
A treat for this three-banded armadillo mom and pup at the San Diego Zoo is to dig into a dish of dirt in search of mealworms.
Hide-and-seek for dinner
Armadillos are considered insectivores and their closest relatives are sloths and anteaters. Although most of their diet is made up of insects and invertebrates, armadillos also eat fruit, eggs, and small animals. They have even been seen eating carrion. At the San Diego Zoo, armadillos are given a special insectivore diet that is served dry or with water to make a paste.
A sensitive nose helps armadillos sniff out tasty treats. If the food is underground, they use their long front claws to dig it up. This digging is why many people consider armadillos pests. Farmers and gardeners alike do not want this animal rooting around looking for bugs and destroying their crops or plants.
Armadillo pups are not born with the tough "armor plating."
Little balls of joy
Breeding season for armadillos varies from species to species, but there are some armadillos that can reproduce year-round. Gestation is anywhere from two to five months. Armadillos do not form bonds and the father does not stay to help raise the young.
A baby armadillo is called a pup. Armadillos can have from one to four pups in a litter. When a pup is born, its shell is soft and gray and feels like leather. The shell hardens within a few days. The mother nurses the pups and they are weaned between two and four months of age. Armadillos usually become mature between 9 and 12 months of age.
The life span of an armadillo ranges from 4 to 30 years. Most armadillos living in zoos will have a longer life span. However, the pink fairy armadillo rarely lives more than a few years in zoos, so little is known about this species.
The nine-banded armadillo is the pride of Texas.
The Lone Star mammal
The nine-banded armadillo, along with five other armadillo species, is also known as the long-nosed armadillo because of its longer head and snout. Despite the common name, it can actually have eight or nine bands, depending on where it's found. This is the species commonly seen in Texas, where it was adopted as the official state mammal.
It's easy to see how the giant armadillo got its name!
Besides being the largest of the armadillos, the giant armadillo also has the most teeth, up to 100! It will often rise up on its back legs, balancing with its tail. Very little is known about this amazing creature, one of the most endangered mammals in South America. It digs a burrow out of large ant nests, which are common in the Chaco region.
Just trying to make a living
Humans affect the armadillo in many ways. Many people consider them pests and call exterminators to rid them from their gardens. Armadillos are often run over by cars as the animals cross roads looking for food and new habitat. Many people eat them and use their shells for novelties like purses. Another growing threat to all armadillos is habitat destruction: all species except the nine-banded armadillo are decreasing in population.
These animals are truly industrious excavators that are great at digging, serve as excellent insect control, and both confuse and delight most humans who come across them.