Armadillos - Little Armored Animals
There are 20 surviving species of armadillo, with all of them living in the Americas. There is one species living in the USA, the Nine-Banded Armadillo. It is common in Texas and has migrated further and further northwards, due to the lack of natural predators on the continent. The main predator in Texas would be large pickup trucks and you will see many unlucky individuals dead on the road after an unfortunate encounter with this predator. Their armor is not quite strong enough to stop such an attack. And beware armadillos because in a pinch the peoples in North, Central and South America will dine on dillo meat - roasted, in a soup or any which way.
All species of the family are characterized by the number of bands they have in their tough leathery armor. The largest is the giant armadillo, which grows up to 59 inches (1.5m) in length and can weigh just under 130 pounds (60kg). In contrast, the pink fairy armadillo is five to six inches long (12 to 15cm).
An Ancient Animal
The armadillo is considered to be a “living fossil” of sorts. It is the only remaining member of the Cingulata order. They derive their name from the description the Spanish conquistadors used for them, meaning “little armored ones”.
Armadillos are mammals and their leathery armor is formed from dermal bone plates, which are covered by small, overlapping “scutes” - which are epidermal scales. The scutes are made of bone and have a covering of horn. They are not covered entirely by the scales, some have tough skin, hair or fur on the undersides. Some have long, thick hairs growing in between and underneath the scales, these species are not surprisingly called "hairy."
Though the armor protects them from most predators, they also make use of their speed and agility to escape from danger. The nine-banded armadillo tends to jump vertically when confronted or threatened. The South American three-banded species is able to roll up into a protective ball when under attack.
Diet and Lifestyle
Armadillos use their claws to forage for food, and to make underground corridors to live in. Their homes are fairly simple and only have one entrance that is just wide enough for their bodies to enter. They can run fast and are able to stay underwater for up to six minutes at a time.
The armored creatures will sink in water by default. They can only float by inflating their lungs and intestines with air, due to the heavy weight of their armor. Most species eat insects and other invertebrates, and they live near bodies of water.
Pregnancy lasts anything from two to three months. In the case of the nine-banded species and some others, four genetically identical offspring are born at the same time. This phenomenon makes them valuable for scientific research.