Armadillos, part of the family Dasypodidae, are placental mammals with a leathery armour shell, and alongside the Chlamyphoridae, they are the only surviving families in the order Cingulata along with the anteaters and sloths. About 21 species of armadillo have been discovered, differences between them consisting in the number of bands on their armour. Armadillos are western mammals known for their unique armor-like shell and notorious for their digging habits. All species are native to the Americas, where they inhabit a variety of different environments.
Description and distribution of armadillos
Their average length is about 75 cm (30 in), including tail. The giant armadillo grows up to 150 cm (59 in) and weighs up to 54 kg (119 lb), while the pink fairy armadillo is a diminutive species, with an overall length of 13–15 cm (5–6 in). Their average life span is of 7-10 years and they can be easily recognized by their greyish-brown oval-shaped body with a long, tapering tail. The armadillos also have a long head with a pointy snout and small black eyes on either side; hard, armor-like shell with 7-11 distinct band-shaped breaks around the center; four short legs with long claws designed for digging. An armadillo’s armor is made up of overlapping plates covering the back, head, legs and tail. The number of armored bands identifies the different type of species they are part of. Only one species, the three-banded armadillo, can roll itself into a hard armored ball to defend itself against predators, while other armadillo species simply dig a hole quickly and hunker down so that their tender stomach is protected and their armor is the only thing visible.
Their pointy snout and long tongue are a sign of their similarity with the anteaters, which are part of the same superorder, Xenarthra.
Their armour-like skin is used as a main defense mechanism, although most escape their predators by fleeing or digging to safety. Although they have short legs, armadillos can move quickly and the nine-banded armadillo is noted for its movement through water. They can do this either by walking underwater for short distances, holding its breath for as long as six minutes; or, to cross larger bodies of water, they are capable of increasing its buoyancy by swallowing air, inflating its stomach and intestines.
They have a poor eyesight, so they are mostly using their sense of smell when hunting or digging for food. The armadillos are not social creatures, as the prefer to spend most of their time sleeping. They can sleep up to 16 hours a day, as they forage for food only in the mornings and evenings.
Regarding their distribution, all extant armadillo species are still present in South America. They are particularly diverse in Paraguay (where 11 species exist) and surrounding areas in Central and South America. Many species are endangered, though. They have consistently expanded to parts of North America, due to their rapid breeding cycle, adaptability and a reduction of predators. Since the mid-19th century, nine-banded armadillos have expanded northward. They have been seen in Florida and are now common in Missouri, Nebraska and central Indiana.
Breeding and dietary information
The armadillos mostly meet during their reproduction period, which, for the nine-banded armadillo, begins in early summer, and the breeding period lasts about 2-3 months. After a gestation period of two to five months, the female will give birth to one to 12 younglings in a birthing burrow. Baby armadillos are called pups. Twin births are common, as the nine-banded armadillos have four identical pups of the same gender in every litter, and the seven-banded armadillo has eight to 15 identical pups at one time. The young are born with soft, leathery skin, which hardens within a few weeks, as the pups mature quickly. They are weaned by two to four months. By nine to 12 months, the pups are mature and ready to have offspring of their own. Armadillos can live anywhere from four to 30 years. The median life expectancy for three-banded armadillos is around 16 years. As the armadillo is not a social creature, they do not share their burrows with other animals.
Armadillos are omnivores, which means they eat meat and plants, though 90 percent of an armadillo’s diet is made up of insects and larvae. With their long, sticky tongue, armadillos catch ants, beetles, termites and other insects after digging them out of the ground. They also eat plants, eggs, small vertebrates and some fruit. From time to time, they will scavenge for dead animals. The diets of different armadillo species vary, but they do consist mainly of insects, grubs, and other invertebrates. Most species, however, feed almost entirely on ants and termites.
Armadillos as pests
Most damage caused by armadillos comes as a result of their digging habits, taking the forms of holes and burrows.
Signs of armadillo damage include:
- holes throughout lawn, about 3-5″ wide and 1-3″ deep;
- uprooted plants and seedlings;
- burrow entrances, about 7-10″ in diameter, next to or underneath structures, sidewalks, brush piles, low-lying shrubs;
- damaged underground wires or pipes;
- cracked foundation or concrete sidewalk/driveway;
- armadillo tracks: four toes in front with elongated center two toes; five toes in back with elongated center three toes; all claws visible.
Armadillos can cause some major issues with homeowners, gardeners, farmers, and anyone else who feels less than pleased to find one of these small digging machines wandering about the yard, as they can occasionally be a major pest in suburban and agricultural areas.
These animals also have the ability to carry the bacterium that causes leprosy in humans (Mycobacterium leprae). Humans can acquire a leprosy infection from armadillos by handling them or consuming armadillo meat. They are a presumed vector and natural reservoir for this disease especially in Texas, Louisiana and Florida. They are also carriers of the Changas disease.
The best way to get rid of armadillos is to capture them in an animal trap and release them away from your home. After doing this, try applying several preventative measures to ensure that you won’t be bothered by armadillos in the future.