Armadillos are only found in the Americas and are characterized by their leathery armor and large digging claws. The average length of an armadillo is 30 inches(75 cm), they have short legs but can move quickly. the giant armadillo is twice this size.
The Spanish name means “little armored one” but the Aztecs name translated into “turtle rabbit” representing both the armor and the speed. The Armadillo loves to dig and in doing so finds prey such as worms and grubs but they don’t only find their prey by digging, being omnivores they also eat plant material but this is less than 10% of their diet.
In the Southern USA the nine banded armadillo is found and likes to dig into soft sandbanks alongside rivers,streams or even arroyos which appear to be its preferred habitat. The bands refer to the bands in the middle of the armadillos body and the number of bands vary according to species.
There are also seven banded armadillos predominantly from South America and live in rain forests. The only armadillo that really relies on its armor for protection by rolling into a ball appears to be the three banded armadillo, also from South America.
The remaining species typically rely on their speed and will often hide in a thorn thicket to escape a predator which may be a coyote, bobcat, raccoon, hawk, owl or even a feral pig. The nine banded armadillo often jumps straight up into the air for about 3 to 4 foot (1 m), when surprised.
The body armor consists of plates of dermal bone and covered in scutes made of horn. The shoulders and hips normally have rigid armor with the middle of the animals need for flexibility being catered for bu smaller bands.
An armadillos gestation period is between 2 to 5 months and the female will give birth to between 1 and 12 pups. The male is sometimes referred to as a ram and the female a doe. Nine-banded armadillos have 4 pups that are identical and of the same gender in each litter, and the seven-banded armadillo has eight to 15 identical pups. The 4 identical pups or quadruplets even share the same placenta.
In around 3 months the pups are weaned and at 12 months have matured enough to breed. Our pups can expect to live for anything between 4 and 30 years. The female can delay the implantation of the egg for long periods of time, most likely for months before the pregnancy starts.
Armadillos do not have very good eyesight and rely more on their sense of smell to find food. They are able to detect food 6 inches (15 cm) deep with their highly tuned sense of smell. Their teeth are pretty poor compared to other mammals and having a few peg-like molars except for the giant armadillo which can have up to 100 teeth!
An armadillos body temperature is about 9°F (5°C) lower than the average mammal. To accommodate this they will only be out of their burrows in the late afternoon winter sun and in summer around dusk or evening.
Another interesting fact relating to armadillos is that they are particularly susceptible due to their unusually low body temperature to the leprosy bacterium Mycobacterium leprae. The leprosy bacterium is difficult to culture and armadillos have a body temperature is similar to human skin.
Humans can acquire a leprosy infection from armadillos by handling them or consuming armadillo meat although it is unlikely to get it from handling.
When crossing a stream or river the armadillo will simply walk along the bottom of the stream holding its breath. If its a greater expanse of water it gulps air to fill its intestines and thereby gain buoyancy, then it swims across much like a dog!