Armadillos are small placental mammals, known for having a bony armor shell. The Dasypodidae are the only surviving family in the order Cingulata. Until as recently as 1995, the family was placed in the order Xenarthra, along with the anteaters and sloths.
There are approximately 10 extant genera and around 20 extant
species of armadillo, some of which are distinguished by the
number of bands on their armor. Their average length is about 75
centimeters (30 inches), including tail; the Giant Armadillo
reaches roughly 90 cm (3 ft), while the pink fairy armadillos
are diminutive species with an overall length of 12-15 cm (4-5
in). All species are native to the Americas, where they inhabit
a variety of environments. In the United States, the sole
resident armadillo is the Nine-banded Armadillo (Dasypus
novemcinctus), which is most common in the central southernmost
states, particularly Texas.
Armadillos are prolific diggers, and many species use their sharp claws to dig for food such as grubs, and to dig dens. The Nine-banded Armadillo prefers to build burrows in moist soil near the creeks, streams and arroyos near which it lives and feeds. The diet of different armadillo species varies, but consists mainly of insects, grubs and other invertebrates. Some species, however, are almost entirely formicivorous (feeding mainly on ants).
Armadillos have poor vision but are not blind.
The armor is formed by plates of dermal bone covered in small, overlapping epidermal scales called "scutes". This armor-like skin appears to be the main defense of many armadillos, although most escape predators by fleeing (often into thorny patches, from which their armor protects them) or digging to safety. Only the South American three-banded armadillos (Tolypeutes) rely heavily on their armor for protection. When threatened by a predator, Tolypeutes species frequently roll up into a ball. (Other armadillo species cannot roll up because they have too many plates.) The North American Nine-banded Armadillo tends to jump straight in the air when surprised, and consequently often collides with the undercarriage or fenders of passing vehicles.
Armadillos have short legs but can move quickly, and have the ability to remain underwater for as long as six minutes. Because of the weight of its armor, an armadillo will sink in water unless it inflates its stomach with air, which often doubles its size.
Armadillos use their claws for digging and finding food, as well as for making their homes. They build their houses with the claws, only making a single corridor where they fit themselves.
This Armadillo Page is Copyright The Animal Web Guide © 2004 - 2009 Chuck Ayoub