Posted By Lauriel O. Posted On

“Armadillo” It can curl into a hard, protective ball!

Resembling an armor-plated vehicle, the armadillo is outfitted with formidable protection against its natural adversaries and predators, which are unable to pierce the tough hide.

This natural defense has enabled this creature to thrive for millions of years across the Western Hemisphere.

Very few mammals can match its sheer resilience and survivability.

– Appearance –
Armadillos look a bit like armored opossums (though unrelated) with their pointed snouts, short legs, a long tail, sharp claws, and big ears.

These creatures are commonly known for their rather plain gray or brown appearance, but in fact, some armadillos have pink, red, or even yellow coloring.

They also vary widely in size. The smallest is the pink fairy armadillo at a mere 5 inches long, whereas the largest is the giant armadillo at impressive 59 inches and 120 pounds in weight.

This is the size of some larger dogs. Giant armadillos also have up to 100 teeth and six-inch claws.

– Armadillo Shell –
The armadillo’s most prominent feature, the scaly looking shell, provides an armor-like protection against predators

The armor covers most of head and body and sometimes the legs as well. Despite popular misconception, only one species, the three-banded armadillo, can roll into a ball.

The other species dig deep into the ground with their sharp claws to protect their softer parts from damage when threatened by a predator.

The number of armored bands on the shell varies by species. In fact, many species are named after the number of bands.

– Diet –
Armadillos have adapted to rely on a nearly inexhaustible food source, spending most of the day foraging for invertebrates and larvae.

Ants and termites appear to be a favorite meal for many species of armadillo, but they will also eat beetles, cockroaches, wasps, spiders, snails, scorpions, and much more.

Other sources of food include fruits, vegetation, eggs, small reptiles and amphibians, and carrion.

Lacking sharp incisors or canines, their short, flat teeth are well-suited for consuming small, crunchy animals and plant matter.

Combined with their long tongues, armadillos can consume an impressive amount of food per day.

They are generally helpful for humans as they dispose of insects and pests that can harm crops.

However, armadillos can inadvertently destroy crops themselves by digging around in the dirt. For this reason, some farmers have considered them a nuisance.

– Habitat –
Armadillos are almost exclusively endemic to Central America and South America. The only exception is the nine-banded species, which is also found in the United States.

They are completely absent from Africa, the Eurasian supercontinent, and the Australian area. The greatest variation of this species is found around the Paraguay region.

This is due to the fact that it evolved in South America and only slowly migrated out to the rest of the hemisphere.

It is possible that armadillos will continue to expand northward into the northern United States and Canada as the climate warms.

Armadillos live in grasslands, rainforests, wetlands, and semi-desert regions of the Americas.

These ecosystems provide plenty of places with sandy or loose soil for easy digging and excavation.

However, because of their diverse diet, these creatures are capable of surviving in a large number of different ecosystems and habitats.

– Reproduction, Babies and Lifespan –
The armadillo’s breeding season varies by species and region. Some armadillos can breed year-round, while others only breed at specific times of the year.

Males rely on their strong sense of smell to locate a potential mate. One species, the yellow or six-banded armadillo, engages in a truly elaborate courtship ritual in which the female will run from her male suitors.

After the fastest male catches her, they will mate even as the female continues running.

There are other unique and bizarre aspects to armadillo anatomy and reproduction. The male, for instance, has one of the largest penis sizes to body lengths among all mammals.

The females also have the ability to delay implantation of the egg after copulation until food is more plentiful. And compared to other mammals of a similar size, armadillos are truly prolific breeders.

The seven-banded armadillo can produce between eight and 15 identical babies, or pups, at a time. The nine-banded armadillo can produce four identical babies. However, some species may only produce one or two pups at a time.

Once conceived, the babies develop quickly. After a gestation period of only two to five months, the young pups are born.

At first their skin is soft and vulnerable, but they develop the hardened armor over a matter of weeks.

They are then weaned at the two- to four-month period. Within a year, they reach full sexual maturity and are ready to venture out on their own.

Depending on the species, armadillos have a lifespan lasting anywhere between four and 30 years.

In captivity, they have been known to live even longer. However, some species may not be suited for captivity and tend not to live very long in zoos or wildlife centers.