Nine-Banded Armadillo

STATUSLeast Concern

COMMON NAME (SCIENTIFIC NAME)Dasypus novemcinctu

DIETInsects, small reptiles, amphibians, plant matter

RANGESouthern United States

HABITATWarm, wet climates; forests; grasslands

Nine-Banded Armadillo

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Program and General Information

Nine-banded armadillos can be found in northern Argentina to the southern United States. They are the only species of armadillos found in the United States. 

Armadillos are the only mammals covered by an outer body of armor made up of bony plates. These plates provide a tough yet flexible covering accounting for 16% of their total body weight. Despite their name being the nine-banded armadillo, they only have between 7-11 bands.

Their sense of smell is their best sense, being able to smell invertebrates that are 8 inches below the surface. They can even stand on their hind legs to get a better vantage point for smelling. They also have a good sense of hearing, allowing them to be able to avoid predation. 

Common Physical Features

Blackish-brown to grey in coloration with yellowish white hair on its underside. The nine banded armadillos can get in length up to 2.5 feet long (from nose to tip of tail) and weigh up to 15 pounds. Males are generally larger than females. 

The “armor” or carapace is made out of tough leathery skin and dermal plates which are divided into three sections: a scapular shield, a pelvic shield, and a series “bands” around the mid-section. Their heads are also covered in keratinous scales, but their ears lack them. Their ears as well as undersides all lack that armor protection. 

They have a long and tapered snout used to project their tongues in and out in order to forage for insects. Like most insect eating mammals, their tongues are very long and sticky to slurp up insects quickly. 

Their limbs are short with four toes on the front feet and five toes on the back feet. All digits have strong claws, however, the middle digits having the longest claws. These claws are very powerful and are used to dig to find insects.

Habitat and Global Range

Nine-banded armadillos have the largest range for armadillos extending from northern Argentina to the southern United States.  They prefer warm wet climates and live in forested or grassland habitats. 

Diet

The powerful front claws of these animals are used to help them dig up their food in the wild. They also rely on their sense of smell to track down many different species of insects. Their primary diet consists of 75% insects; such as ants, beetles, bees, cockroaches, termites, and scorpions. Lesser part of their diet may also consist of small reptiles, amphibians, and even plant matter (fruits, seeds, fungi). 

Insects are captured by digging up underground nests and/or tearing the bark off of rotting trees and turning over rotting leaf piles. 

Behavior & Life Cycle

Breeding generally occurs once a year in the summer months, only mating with one male. Armadillos will often be solitary, only getting together in order to breed. Gestation lasts about 4 months long, with young being born in the spring. They are able to delay implantation until the warmer months when food is more abundant.  Nine banded armadillos almost always give birth to four identical quadruplets, breeding once a year. 

Right at birth their eyes are open and within a few hours they are up and walking around. Their “armor” has not yet hardened leaving them very vulnerable to predation. 

The young will nurse up to 60 days before the mother weans it, however, they young may remain with the mother for several months. At about one year, they are considered sexually mature. 

Life for an armadillo is limited due to climate, predation, and disease. Since these mammals lack much body hair, they struggle with colder temperatures. Droughts can also cause high mortality rates in armadillos. In the wild, on average, they can live up to 10 years old.

Fun, Informative Facts

  • Armadillo means “little armored one” in Spanish.
  • Nine-banded armadillos cannot roll into a ball like the three banded armadillos.
  • They are closely related to sloths and anteaters.
  • Armadillos’ teeth are single-rooted and peglike, ranging from 30-32 teeth.
  • Armadillos are amazing swimmers and can hold their breath under water for up to 6 minutes. They can even swim or walk along the bottom of the river.
  • Armadillos will switch their activity level based on the season. In the summer, they are more active during the cooler nights whereas the winter they are more active during the warmest time of the day.
  • Their shell is considered to be modified skin (unlike a turtle who’s shell is made of bone) and has small hairs on its plates.
  • They are the only other mammal (besides humans) that can contract leprosy but it is very rare for it to spread from armadillo to human.
  • Armadillos conserve their energy through reta mirabila. This is a system where hot blood comes out of the arteries which is then cooled by the cold blood coming from the veins and vice versa. This means majority of their heat remains within their body and barely reaches their legs. Thus, frost bite is more common since they have no war to warm their extremities through blood flow.
  • A baby armadillo is called a pup.

Conservation Messaging

Nine-banded armadillos are considered least concern due to their high reproduction and large demographic distribution. Armadillos have served as a food source for humans, especially in the Great Depression where they were called the “poor mans’ pork.” These mammals are considered to be pests by many since they will burrow and destroy crops in order to eat insects. However, armadillos are an important predator to many insect agricultural pests. In addition, these mammals are used for many medical research for leprosy due to their low body temperature to host the disease.

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