Armadillos belong to the order Cingulata of the family Dasypodidae and are most closely related to sloths and anteaters. Their distinctive armor plating is made up of actual bones, making the armadillo rather inflexible. This outer “armor” is used more as a deterrent to predators, rather than an actual means of defense. Only the 3-Banded Armadillo can roll itself into a ball for protection, all of the other 19 species use their speed and incredible digging abilities to escape becoming a meal.
With their stubby, powerful legs and strong claws, armadillos are designed for digging and do so constantly. They dig numerous burrows and bolt-holes and can interlink them with an extensive network of semi-permanent tunnels. Armadillos also dig for food, probing the ground and rotting trees for insects, grubs, and other invertebrates, including ants. Armadillos will eat carrion, eggs and even baby birds or other small mammals if the opportunity presents itself.
It is this penchant for digging that has caused the armadillo to be considered destructive and a pest by humans. On the contrary, armadillos frequently consume the insects that cause the most damage to crops and lawns. It is humans, their cars and their pets, which have had a decimating effect on the overall armadillo population. Only the 9-Banded Armadillo has increased its range from South America to as far north as Kansas. Armadillos prefer habitats with sandy soils and can be found in grasslands, woodlands, wetlands and areas of thorny scrub.
When it comes to reproduction, the 9-Banded Armadillo is rather unique. After mating in July, the fertilized egg remains dormant until November. This is called delayed implantation. Once implanted, the single egg then divides into genetically identical quadruplets which will be born 4 months later. The kits are born fully developed except for their boney shells. It will take several weeks for their pink leathery skin to be ossified into armor.
Fun Armadillo Facts
- The armadillo is the state small mammal of Texas.
- Armadillo comes from the Spanish, meaning “little armored one.”
- Armadillos are one of the few animals who consume fire ants as part of their diet. Such an ability can make armadillos very beneficial to humans.
- Besides being excellent diggers, armadillos are also good swimmers. Armadillos can hold their breath for up to 6 minutes.
- Armadillos have poor eyesight and so can be easily startled while foraging.
- If they can’t dig under it, armadillos will climb over it and are quite capable of scaling fences and trees.
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