Armadillo which means the little armoured ones in Spanish are a new world placental mammals in the order Cingulata. The only surviving families in the order Cingulata and the suborder Xenarthra are the Chlamyphorus and Dasypodidae. Till today nine extinct genera and 21 extant species of armadillo have been described in many books and one of these is distinguished by the number of bands on their armour. All the species are found to be native to the United States of America where they are found to inhibit a variety of different environments.
One of the main characteristics of Armadillos is the presence of a leathery shell and long and sharp claws for digging. They also have short legs but can also move very quickly under or above the ground. Including the tail, the average length of an armadillo is close to 70 cm or 30 inches. A giant armadillo grows up to 150 cm or 59 inches and weighs up to 54 kg or 119 pounds. The pink fairy armadillo is the smallest as it has a length of only 15 sm or 5-6 inches. Armadillo has been threatened by many predators and hunters in the past.
Here, we are going to discuss the armadillo animal, its description, behaviour, habitat, diet, and also a few of the most frequently asked questions will also be answered.
What is an Armadillo?
Animal armadillo meaning comes from the Spanish word which means ”Little armoured one” and it also refers to the bony plates that cover its head, back, legs, and tail of most of these odd-looking creatures. Armadillos are the only mammals that are found to wear a shell all over the body to protect themselves.
Armadillos are found to be very closely related to the anteaters and sloths. Armadillos have very pointed and very small eyes. They have been found to vary in size and colour as an armadillo's overall length, including the tail, is equivalent to 70 cm or 30 inches. A giant armadillo can grow to be 150 cm tall or 59 inches long and weigh up to 54 kg or 119 pounds. The pink fairy armadillo is the shortest, measuring just 15 sm (5-6 inches). The colour of the Armadillo also varies as most of them are dark to brown coloured but there have been many armadillos that are found to have red, gray, yellowish, or dark black colouring. Not all armadillos have been found to encase or protect themselves in their shells as only the three-banded armadillo are found to curl their head and back feet into the shell to protect themselves from the predators.
Armadillos are found to be very resembling an armour-plated vehicle. The armadillo is well-protected against its natural enemies and predators, who are unable to pierce the tough shell. This natural protection has enabled this species to survive across the Western Hemisphere for millions of years. Few mammals can compete with their tenacity and adaptability.
Armadillo Scientific Name
Earlier the Spanish colonists and the explorers spotted an unusual creature while they travelled through the forest of America. The term ‘Armadillo’ has been derived from the Spanish word which literally means ‘Little armoured ones’. Ayotochin which means a turtle rabbit was the term that was used to describe the armadillos by the Aztecs.
Armadillos are members of the order Cingulata, which means "girdle" in Latin. This order is thought to have evolved 60 million years ago when South America was more separate from the rest of North America. The entire order used to be much more complex, with a plethora of various armoured species.
There are only two major families of Armadillos remaining and those are Chlamyphorus and the Dasypodidae. Chlamyphoridae is considered to be the most populated among the remaining families on Earth. Dasypodidae has only one family left, but it includes the common nine-banded armadillo. The armadillo is distantly related to anteaters and sloths.
Appearance of Armadillo
Armadillos have been found to be very similar to the armoured opossums but with pointed snouts, short legs, long tails, sharp claws, and big ears. The armadillos are commonly known for their plain gray or brown appearance but there are many species of armadillos that have been found to have colours such as pink, red, green, or yellow. The armadillos also vary in size.
The smallest Armadillos that has been recorded is the pink fairy armadillo which is nearly 5 to 6 inches longest including the tail and the largest one is the Giant armadillo which is 60 inches long and weighs up to 120 pounds. Giant Armadillos are as large as a fully grown dog and they also have up to 100 teeth and six-inch claws.
The armadillo's most noticeable attribute is the scaly-looking body which acts as armour against predators. The steel protects the majority of the head and body, as well as the legs on occasion.
Just one animal, the three-banded armadillo, will roll into a ball, contrary to common belief. When attacked by a predator, the other animals dig deep into the earth with their sharp claws to shield their softer bits. Species differ in the number of armoured bands on their shells. Many animals are named for the number of bands they have.
Armadillo Habitat and Behaviour
Because of their structure, the armadillos are very gifted diggers. They use their sharp claws, they can create massive burrows in the ground to serve as safe and comfortable homes which are lined by the leaves and vegetation. The armadillos sleep up to 16 hours a day.
Since the Armadillo is such a skilled digger, Snakes, rabbits, skunks, rodents, and a variety of other species have been known to live in their empty burrows. Hollow logs and long grasses or shrubs are also possible armadillo nesting sites.
The digging ability of armadillos is not only for them to build a new home but it has few important purposes. The digging ability of armadillos is the main means of locating food in the ground. This is aided by their superior sense of smell, which compensates for their impaired vision. Many animals can't see them, but they can quickly pick out secret food. Their skin has long sprouts of hair that allow them to feel their way through small gaps and confined spaces. The armadillo, like the anteater, has a long tongue that it uses to suck up its prey that is hidden deep underground.
Armadillos have very adaptable social structures that can change based on the circumstances. They prefer a solitary life much of the time, particularly when they come out at night to hunt and forage for food as they are mostly nocturnal animals. They will, though, sometimes congregate for a variety of causes. The first explanation for gathering is to choose a breeding partner for the upcoming breeding season. The second explanation is that during cold spells, they would always huddle together in their burrows to stay warm. They are highly cold-intolerance due to their poor normal body temperature and metabolic rate. As a result, extended exposure to the cold can be fatal.
Armadillos are mostly found in Central America and South America. The nine-banded species are found in the United States of America. Armadillos are completely absent in South Africa, Eurasian supercontinents, and the Australian areas.
The greatest variation of the Armadillo species has been found around the Paraguay region. This is all because if we consider the fact that the species have evolved in South America and only then migrated out to the rest of the hemisphere. There is also a possibility that the Armadillo will expand northward into the northern United States and Canada as the climate in those regions gets warmer
Armadillos can be found in the Americas' grasslands, rainforests, wetlands, and semi-desert areas. These habitats have a lot of sandy or loose dirt, which makes drilling and excavation easier. These species, on the other hand, can survive in a wide range of environments and climates thanks to their varied diet.
Armadillo’s Diet, Population, and Predators
The exact number of Armadillo species around the world is unknown but armadillos as a group appear to be relatively in strong health. According to the IUCN Red List, most species of the armadillos are listed as least concerned, and yet they have been facing a steep decline in their population. The Brazillian three-banded armadillo and the giant armadillo are both vulnerable to extinction. The loss of their natural range throughout South America could be causing population declines. Conservationists have concentrated their attention on reducing habitat destruction as well as intentional deaths from poisoning and poaching.
Armadillos are very prolific diggers as many species use their sharp claws to dig food. Armadillos have adapted so well to rely on nearly inexhaustible food sources. The nine-banded armadillo is very well known as they like to burrow in damp soil along the creeks, ponds, and arroyos it lives and feeds in. Armadillos spend most of their daytime searching for invertebrates and larvae in the soil. The diets of various armadillo species vary, but insects, grubs, and other invertebrates are the most common. Most species of armadillo seem to like ants and termites, but they can also consume beetles, cockroaches, wasps, spiders, snails, scorpions, and other insects. Fruits, vegetation, larvae, small reptiles and amphibians, and carrion are among the other food sources.
Armadillos have very poor eyesight but that does not stop them from searching for food as they are known to have a keen sense of smell when hunting for food. The armadillos use their claws for digging and finding food and they also use their claws to make homes in the burrows. Their burrows are dug with their teeth, leaving only a single corridor the width of the cat. On their hind paws, they have five clawed toes, while on their forefeet, they have three or five toes with strong digging nails.
Their short, flat teeth, which lack sharp incisors or canines, are well-suited for eating thin, crunchy animals and plant matter. Armadillos can eat a large amount of food every day thanks to their long tongues. They are beneficial to humans in that they eliminate insects and rodents that can damage crops. Armadillos, on the other hand, will unwittingly kill crops by poking around in the dirt. As a result, some farmers deem them to be a pest.
For many centuries Armadillos have been facing a lot of danger from all kinds of predators which includes the jaguars, bobcats, wolves, large hawks, cheetahs, and other birds of prey. The only and the most important means of defence in the armadillo is its armoured shell which covers its head, neck, and back which most predators usually attack. If the primary means of defence fails in an armadillo it then tries and lashes out at the predators with the sharp claws or it plays dead against them or simply just runs away. Despite its appearance, the armadillo is a skilled athlete and jumper capable of making a fast getaway. The nine-banded armadillo, for example, will float over water by inhaling enough air to make its whole body buoyant.
In the regions of South America, the species of armadillos have been often hunted as a source of food or its parts such as the hard shell. When the crisis of the great depression started in the United States of America, the armadillos became a last resort for many desperate and hungry people. At that time the armadillos were described by many as the ‘Hoover hogs’ and many started hunting and killing them for food and also many people had blamed the president for the economic struggle.
Armadillos are also susceptible to a variety of human activities, such as car crashes, poisoning, and extinction. The large-scale destruction of rainforests, wetlands and other ecosystems throughout South America is the greatest danger to the species' survival. The armadillo is a hardy creature that can adapt to a variety of conditions, but it is being squeezed out of its natural environment.
The armadillo breeding season varies from one region to another. Few armadillos are capable of breeding all year round while others are not lucky enough as they only breed at a specific time of the year. All the male armadillos heavily depend on their strong sense of smell to locate a potential mate. One of the species of armadillo which is the yellow or six-banded armadillo, for example, has a complex courtship routine in which the female runs away from male suitors. And if the female tries to race, the fastest male will pursue her and they will mate.
Compared to other mammals of similar size, the armadillos are truly a tremendous breeder and one such example is the seven-banded armadillo. The seven-banded armadillo is capable of producing up to eight identical babies or pups at a time. The nine-banded armadillo on the other hand can produce up to four identical pups. Not all the species of armadillo are as blessed as the nine and the seven banded armadillos as there are also species that can only produce only one or two pups at a time. The majority of Dasypus species produce four monozygotic young (i.e., identical quadruplets), although other species can have litter sizes ranging from one to eight.
The gestation period for the armadillos is mostly between 60 to 120 days and it is not the same for all the species. Within five months young pups are born. When they are born their skin is very soft and vulnerable but as they grow old the skin becomes hard and they develop a hard armour all around their body within weeks. Within a span of a year, the young ones reach full sexual maturity and are ready to go out on their own. Armadillos are lonely creatures that don't live in burrows with other adults.
Armadillos have a lifespan ranging from four to thirty years, depending on the species. They have been known to survive much longer in captivity. Some animals, however, are not conducive to captivity and do not last long in zoos or wildlife centres.
Armadillo Body Temperature, Size, and Skin
Size of an Armadillo
Armadillos don't have a definite size as their size ranges from medium to large. The smallest armadillo species that has been known to mankind is the pink fairy armadillo which is just 85 grams in weight and 15 centimetres in length. On the other hand, the largest species of armadillo is the giant armadillo which is as big as a full-grown domestic dog and it weighs up to 60 kgs and can be 150 cm long.
Skin and Body Temperature of Armadillo
Armadillos have very low body temperatures as low as 36 degrees celsius and also they have a lower basal metabolic rate which is between 0-60% of the expected in the placental mammals of their mass.
The armoured shell that is considered to be the primary means of protecting the armadillo is considered to be formed by the plates of dermal bones which are covered by relatively small, overlapping epidermal scales called scutes which are composed of bone with a covering of horn. Most species of armadillo have rigid shields over the shoulders and hips with a number of bands separated by flexible skin covering the back and the flanks. There is additional armour that covers the top of the head, the upper parts of the limbs, and the tail. The animal's underbelly is never armoured, instead of being coated with smooth skin and feathers.