Armadillos - Not Just for Texans Anymore April 11, 2016 17:49

This conservation article on armadillos is found in block #10 "The Armadillo" of the Desert Habitats Collection 

Armadillo on a rock eating a red flowered cactus 

Armadillos - Not Just for Texans Anymore

             At Christmastime, when I was growing up one of my favorite ornaments was a small stuffed yellow armadillo with nine bands of colorful thread across its back. My family is from Texas, where I was born and lived the first five years of my life. My grandparents and lots of relatives lived in San Antonio, Houston, Austin, and Tyler. We visited our relatives many times a year when I was growing up. So naturally, Texas icons like the Lone Star, cowboys, blue bonnets, and armadillos were important to my family.

             The Spanish word armadillo means “little armored one”, so-named for the hard plates that cover them everywhere except the belly.   Twenty species can be found in North, Central and South America. Only one can be found in the United States – the Nine-banded Armadillo. Anywhere from eight to eleven bands can be found across the Nine-banded armadillo’s back. Unlike its armored back, head, tail, and legs, the stomach is covered in skin and fur. Armoring of this type is unique to the armadillo in the mammalian world.

             If you look at an armadillo’s face, it resembles the opossum. However, armadillos are more closely related to anteaters and sloths. Like these creatures, armadillos have large front claws used for digging invertebrates like ants, beetles and grubs. Armadillos also possess sticky tongues, the better to catch their creepy crawly prey. Sometimes armadillos will supplement their diet with bird’s eggs, fruits, plants or even carrion. Early morning and evening is the best time to spot an armadillo since they are nocturnal and forage all night long.

            In the U.S., armadillos have spread from Texas to Florida and to a smaller extent as far north as Nebraska, Illinois and Indiana. Their habitat has increased due to several factors. Large predators, like the cougar, normally feed on armadillos. However, cougar populations have been decreasing in numbers leading to a lack of armadillo predators. Grazing cattle leave grass shorter and provide a warm habitat for ants and other invertebrates. These small creatures form the majority of the armadillo’s diet. Since armadillos need a warm environment in which to live, global warming is thought to provide warmer temperatures to more northerly states.

             Not all armadillos are spreading, however. The Pink Fairy Armadillo, found in Argentina, is endangered. The Giant Armadillo, found in Latin America, has been noted as “threatened”. It is killed often for its meat, which has been likened to pork.

             Armadillos have been around since ancient times in the form of their giant cousin, the Glyptodont. They have many unique characteristics. The Three-Banded Armadillo can actually roll into a ball as a defense mechanism. Although, armadillos in the United States are not endangered, the Nine-Banded Armadillo is often hit by cars due to its habit of jumping when frightened. So when you’re driving in Texas at dusk, remember the armadillo and stop short of targeting these helpful, ant-eating creatures.


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