Translated from Spanish to mean ‘little armoured one’, armadillos are the only living mammal with a hard shell. It protects them from predators and stops them getting hurt by spiky plants hiding in the undergrowth where they live.
Amazing Facts About the Armadillo
As the only mammals with a shell, armadillos are famous for the way they look, though that certainly isn’t the only interesting thing about them – they are brilliant diggers that hide in burrows by day and dig for termites and other insects by night. Want to know more? Read our favourite armadillo facts below.
How many species are there?
Armadillos are part of the mammalian order Xenarthra, which includes armadillos, anteaters and sloths. There are 31 species in the order, 21 of which are extant (alive today) species of armadillo.
With the exception of the Nine-banded armadillo, all species live solely in Latin America. The nine-banded armadillo also lives in the USA and is the state animal of Texas.
What do armadillos eat?
Armadillos are omnivores, though they eat mostly insects and some plants. Their long sharp claws help them to dig in the soil for a mix of food such as ants, termites, insects and grubs.
Armadillos have bad eyesight; how do they find food?
Living underground in dark burrows, armadillos don’t rely more on other senses – their eyesight is not very good. Their noses, however, are brilliant. They can smell things which are up to 20 cm below the ground. They also have long straggly fur on their underside to allow them to feel what they are walking over, used similarly to a cat’s whiskers.
How many babies do females have?
Depending on the species, armadillos have between 1-15 babies. The Nine-banded armadillo is worth a special mention here, as it always gives birth to quadruplets (four babies at a time). These babies start from a single egg that then splits into four, meaning they are identical and all the same gender. Females give birth in birthing burrows after a gestation (pregnancy) of 2-5 months.
Another fascinating fact about nine-banded armadillos is that they can delay implantation of the fertilised egg, a process known as embryonic diapause delayed implantation. Animals may do this for many reasons, though often it is to get through times of stress (such as lack of food or extreme weather) and give the babies the best chance of survival. For nine-banded armadillos, delaying implantation means they are able to time their babies’ births with the arrival of spring. Find out more on LiveScience.
Are pups born with their shells?
Yes! Baby armadillos, known as pups, are born with their shells intact. They are soft, though, and feel leathery to the touch. The shells harden over time as bone forms underneath the leathery outer layer.
Do all armadillos roll into a ball?
Armadillos are famous for rolling into a ball, but it’s a bit of a misconception – only three-banded armadillos do this. It is a tactic they use to avoid predators. If they feel threatened, they curl their head and feet inwards to form a hard ball.
When other armadillos feel threatened, they tend to run away into their burrows or into thorny vegetation where they are out of reach of predators, and their armour protects them. Nine-banded armadillos will jump 3-4ft in the air when they are surprised and play dead if caught.
Can armadillos swim?
Surprisingly, yes! While it looks like their heavy armour should weigh them down, nine-banded armadillos are reasonable swimmers. They increase their buoyancy by taking air into their stomach and intestines and can hold their breath for up to six minutes. They will cross the water by walking along the bottom or by using a stroke similar to doggy paddle!
What is their shell made of?
An armadillos shell is composed of plates of bone connected by soft fibres made from collagen, known as Sharpey’s fibres. These tiles are covered in a layer of epidermal scales made of keratin. The overlapping plates cover their back, legs, head and tail; only their underside is uncovered.
Do armadillos have predators, or does their armour protect them?
While armadillos do benefit from a shell of armour, they have many predators, including coyotes, cougars, and bears, among other animals.
Are armadillos sensitive to temperature?
Yes! Due to their lack of fat stores and low metabolic rate, armadillos hate the cold. If there are times of unusually cold weather, a whole population can be wiped out. On the other hand, though, the rising temperature may be allowing armadillos to increase their range.
Are armadillos endangered?
No, though, every species is different. Nine of the 21 species are listed as least concern by the IUCN Red List of Endangered Species. Of the remaining species, five are near threatened, two are vulnerable, and five are data deficient, meaning we don’t know enough about the populations to assess their conservation status.
The two vulnerable species are the giant armadillo and the Brazilian three-banded armadillo. The main threats to these species are hunting and habitat loss. Generally, hunting is for meat, though occasionally, it is due to trade to collectors and conflict with humans. Loss of habitats is primarily due to agriculture.
- Type: Mammal
- Diet: Omnivore
- Life span: 5-10 years in the wild
- Size: 13-150cm (5-59”)
- Weight: 0.85-54kg
- Habitat: Rainforests, grasslands, semi-deserts
- Range: Latin America and into parts of North America
- Scientific name: Dasypodidae