All About the Armadillo

Armadillo stands for “little armored one” in Spanish. It earned its name because of the bony plates that cover the animal’s back, legs, tail, and head.

In fact, this is the only mammal that wears a shell such as this.

What You Should Know

Currently, 20 armadillo varieties exist. All of these except for one lives in Latin America. The nine-banded armadillo is the only one living in the United States.

The majority of armadillos live in warm and temperate habitats. This includes grasslands, rain forests, and semi-deserts. Cold is the enemy of the armadillo, mainly because they lack fat stores and have a lower metabolic rate.

Many armadillos dig burrows and sleep up to 16 hours a day. They forage in the morning and at dusk for beetles, termites, ants, and other insects. They don’t have good eyesight, so they rely on their smell for hunting. The armadillo also eats plants, fruit, vertebrates, and some carrion meal.

Armadillos spend much of their time in solitary. They like to forage alone and only interact to care for the young.

What Sound Do They Make?

The armadillo makes grunting noises while foraging for food. They also tend to squeal and squeak when they feel danger approaching. A screaming hairy armadillo is known for its unique loud squeal.

Group Characteristics

Each species breeds at a different time. Some reproduce year-round. Typical gestation lasts from two to five months for most armadillos. Babies are called pups and the average mother has one to 12 at a time. At birth, the baby has a soft, gray shell with a leather-like feel. It rolls up into a ball within hours.

The mother will nurse the pups for up to four months. The father does not stay to help the young, and the babies leave the mom after only nine months.

The armadillo lifespan ranges from four to 30 years. In the zoo, they live longer.

How Many are There?

Armadillos face a lot of threat from humans. People see them as pests and will call exterminators to remove them from the garden. They also get run over by cars as they look for food.

Another threat it faces is habitat destruction. All of them except for the nine-banded armadillo have a decrease in population. Five of them are classified as vulnerable.

Natural predators to the species include wolves, cougars, wildcats, and bears.

Pop Culture

Disney has used the armadillo in multiple projects. The earliest would be in the 1943 animated short, Pluto and the Armadillo. While the armadillo didn’t have a name, it was clear it was Pluto’s friend. Then, Annette, the armadillo showed up during the Bear in the Big Blue House fourth season.

Interesting Facts

The armadillo has an odd shape, but that doesn’t slow it down. Some armadillos reach up to 30 mph, which allows them to outrun a few of its jungle predators.

There is a species of armadillo known as the pink fairy armadillo. It’s known as the smallest species of all the varieties. It doesn’t live as long and many zoos have trouble keeping them, making it difficult to understand them. This small armadillo measures about five to six inches long and doesn’t weigh more than one pound.

At one point, the armadillo was used to make a musical instrument. The ten-stringed device is known as a charango and was typical in Chile, Bolivia, Peru, and Ecuador.