The nine-banded armadillo, Dasypus novemcinctus, and the other nineteen species of armadillos, as well as the anteaters
and sloth's, belong to the order Edentata. The term "endentate: means toothless, but this is not actually true of the nine-banded
armadillo. It has neither canine nor incisor teeth, but it does have thirty-two small, per-like, open rooted, enameless molars
in the rear part of its jaw. The anteater is the only completely toothless endentate.
Armadillos are ancient creatures that have been around more than fifty-five million years. Some twenty species range from
the southern United States to the tip of Argentina and range in size from the seven-inch long endangered pink fairy armadillos
to the 125 lb. giant
Armadillo. However, the nine-banded armadillo is the only one found in the United States .
Armadillo means "Little armored one" in Spanish, and was so dubbed by the early Spanish explorer Hernando Cortez when he
and his soldiers encountered them in Mexico in 1520. He even took one back to Spain to show the royal family.
Distribution in the United States is from Texas (east of the Pecos River), through Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia,
Florida, Arkansas, Oklahoma and the southern portions of Missouri and Kansas. Their range is limited by climate and aridity.
Since they do not hibernate or store large quantities of body fat, they cannot endure extended periods of very cold weather.
They need to be able to forage throughout the year. Also, long term aridity limits their food supply of insects and makes
the digging of dens difficult. The "diggability" of the soil is a strong factor in the number of armadillos in an area.
The armadillos generally prefer areas of dense plant growth. Their burrows can usually be found at the base of trees and
bushes that have strong roots and are near a water supply. As well as needing water for drinking and feeding, they are fond
of taking mud baths in very shallow water. Conversely, an excess of water is not desirable and they are not found in marshy
Armadillos dig more dens than most other burrowing animals. One armadillo can have as many as fifteen burrows. While one
burrow serves as a nest, the others are used as hideouts when danger is near and as food traps. A burrow can be anywhere from
four feet to twenty-four feet in length and be as deep as five feet beneath the surface, with the hole diameter usually 7-8
inches. Armadillos are not territorial and in fact have been known to share their burrows, which is especially beneficial
in providing habitats for other creatures.
The armadillo is a clean animal. It buries its excrement in the dirt in the manner as cats, so as to not betray its presence.
It changes its nesting material often, which consists of leaves and grass. This is done particularly after a severe rain,
when decaying leaves are often found outside of the nest. The armadillo has an unusual manner of carrying nesting material
to its burrow. With efficiency, this little animal will hold the leaves and grass underneath its body with its front legs
and hop backwards using its tail as a feeler.
These archaic animals, the only mammals with armor, present may unique features, The armor, called a carapace, consists
of ossified (bony) dermal plates covered by a modified skin structure; this keratinized skin is semi-flexible with a leathery
texture. They have a front and rear shield separated by nine movable bands (may vary from 8 to 11). The head, tail and exposed
parts of the legs are also armored. The tail is ringed by bands of armor. The armor provides excellent protection from briars
and thorns in the underbrush. This enables the armadillos to plunge into thickets that their predators cannot penetrate. Contrary
to popular belief, the nine-banded armadillos cannot roll up into a ball. This talent is possessed by the three-banded armadillo,
a relative in South America . There are sparse hairs on the upper surface of the shell. Yellow-white, coarse hair grows on
the soft skin of the underbelly and most of them also have this hair on the under part of their heads where it looks like
The nine-banded armadillo is gray-brown in color and about the size of a small terrier dog. The length of its head and
body are from 15-17 inches and the tail is 14-16 inches. The animal can weigh between 8 and 17 pounds. There are four toes
on the front feet and five toes on the hind feet. The armadillo has a phenomenal capacity for digging because of its large,
strong, curved claws and a highly developed muscular system. It can bury itself completely within two minutes.
The eyesight of the armadillo is poor, but it has a superb sense of smell that allows it to locate insects as deep as eight
inches underground. Its anteater-like tongue is long, thin and has sticky saliva; it is specialized for lapping up insects.
Sense of smell is not only utilized in food-getting but also serves as a means of defense. While foraging or just traveling,
the animal stops at intervals, rears on its haunches, and tests the air.
The armadillo is the only animal that does natural cloning. A mother armadillos produces four babies per litter, all of
the same sex. They are genetically identical quadruplets that start of as a single egg, which divides into two and finally
into four. The babies are fully developed miniatures of their parents, with eyes open and able to walk within one hour. When
they are born, the shells are pink in color with a soft, leathery texture. The babies' carapace toughens, thickens, and darkens
with age. They reach physical maturity in about 16 months.
There life span in the wild can be up to 16 years.
Armadillos mate in the late summer and early fall. The female has a normal delayed implantation of the embryo of three
months, then a development of four months so that the babies are born in the springtime when food is plentiful. The female
has a unique ability to further delay her pregnancy up to three years under conditions that are stressful. This extended,
delayed implantation is longer than any other animal.
The armadillo eats mostly insects, grubs, and worms, which it finds by nosing around in fallen leaves and ground vegetation
and digging into the ground with its sharp claws. It will also eat berries and fruits in season and other small invertebrates
such as spiders, scorpion and snails. The armadillo is especially beneficial because it feeds on insects harmful to crops,
most notably fire ants.
This shy, docile and non-aggressive creature spends most of its waking hours rooting in the soil while grunting and snuffling
almost constantly and hustles about changing directions often; oblivious to what is going on around it. The adults are usually
solitary except during mating season and when the young are small. It is easy to tell if armadillos have been in the area.
They leave conical holes 1 to 2 inches deep called foraging pits, where they have been rooting in the soil. They also leave
a conspicuous trail. The dragging tail is a dead giveaway, leaving an imprint similar that of a rope.
Armadillos have many distinct habits. Their daily rhythm is regulated by temperature. During the summer they are nocturnal;
that is, they spend most of the day sleeping in an underground burrow and come out to eat at night. However, they will come
out during the daytimes in the summer immediately following a rain or extreme cloudiness, if the temperature falls. They reverse
their schedule in the winter to forage in the warmest part of the afternoon. This is known as being diurnal.
These curious, little creatures have a unique manner of crossing water. They are heavy for their size, denser that water.
They can cross small streams by walking on the bottom completely submerged. They are able to go for as long as ten minutes
without breathing. Not only is this ability useful for crossing water but when escaping danger, it enables them to dig fast
and vigorously without uncovering their nose and mouth for breathing. If a river is wide and they have to swim, they swallow
air to inflate their stomachs and intestines for buoyancy, and float across.
Carnivores, such as dogs, bobcats, foxes, coyotes and mountain lions are the most significant enemies of the armadillo.
Another major enemy is man and the automobile. Many armadillos are found dead on the roadsides because of their unfortunate
habit of reflexively jumping straight up, as high as three feet, when startled. Instead of being run over by car's wheels,
they are hit in the air as they jump up or hit the car's underside.
When alarmed the armadillo is capable of astonishing speed and agility and is a master of dodging. Its reaction to danger
is to run or burrow rapidly into the ground and wedge itself into the hole with its back and claws. If pursued, it changes
from its normal shuffling gait to a scuttle, and then a fast gallop with a remarkable burst of speed and can outrun a person
over short distances. If caught, it will fight with its claws but will never bite, for there are no teeth in the front part
of its mouth.
Armadillos have been the subject of medical and scientific research in the reproductive physiology and genetics because
of their unique abilities to clone and delay their pregnancy. Another peculiarity of the armadillo, as well as all of the
edentates, is that they are incomplete homoeothermic animals, which means that they have primitive thermo regulation traits.
Instead of maintaining a constant body temperature as humans do the armadillo's body temperature fluctuates depending on environment,
air temperature, and activity. They are also used in leprosy research. Sue to their low body temperature of 87 to 95 degrees
F, they are suitable hosts for the leprosy bacilli. They are the only animal other than man that will consistently grow the
bacilli under laboratory conditions. Because of their unique susceptibility to leprosy they have been used to develop a vaccine
against this ancient disease. According to the U.S. Public Health Service, there is no hard evidence that the armadillo can
transmit leprosy to humans, only the other way around.