Three Banded Armadillo (Brazilian)

STATUSVulnerable

COMMON NAME (SCIENTIFIC NAME)Tolypeutes tricinctus

DIETBeetle larvae, other insects such as ants and termites; fruit

RANGEBrazil

HABITATDry scrubland and thorn forests in NE Brazil. In central Brazil, bush savannas and dry forests

Three Banded Armadillo (Brazilian)

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Program and General Information

Three-banded armadillos can be found in eastern Bolivia, southwestern Brazil, Paraguay, and Argentina. Armadillos are the only mammals covered by a shell. But it’s different from a seashell or a tortoise shell. An armadillo’s shell is made up of bony plates covered by thick, hard skin.

The “armor” isn’t the only protection this armadillo has from predators. When a frightened three-banded armadillo curls up into a ball, it often leaves a space open. If a predator puts a paw or nose into that space to try to pry the armadillo open, the little animal slams its shell shut.

The three-banded armadillo uses its long, sharp front claws to dig into termite mounds to feast on the insects inside. It also uses them to break open tree bark to snack on beetle larvae hiding inside.

Common Physical Features

Blackish-brown in coloration, the three banded armadillo can reach between 218 and 273mm in length and weigh 1.0-1.5 kg. Its shell is comprised of two dome halves that are separated by three individual bands of shell. All of the shells moving pieces are connected by flexible skin. The Brazilian and the Southern three banded armadillos are the only two species to be able to curl into a complete ball. Their tails fit alongside their heads perfectly like a yin and yang symbol to close any gaps that might allow predators access. Both the front and back feet on this armadillo have five toes. In the back, the middle three toes grow together but are separate from the outer two toes. In the front, however, all five toes are separate. The front toes each have a long claw on which the animal travels (he does not actually place his foot on the ground). These claws are very powerful and are used to dig.

Habitat and Global Range

Native to Brazil. Found in caatinga region- dry scrubland and thorn forests in N.E. Brazil. When found in central Brazil, they are found in cerrado region- bush savannas and dry forests. Both of these regions have well developed dry and wet seasons.

Diet

The powerful front claws of these animals are used to help them dig up their food in the wild. Their primary diet consists of beetle larvae, but also regularly includes other insects such as ants and termites. In the wet season, they also add fruit into their diet.

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

Behavior and Life Cycle

Once breeding season is over, gestation lasts around 120 days before a single baby armadillo is born. The young are born between November and January of each year. They look identical to adults although their protective shells don’t harden and their ear flaps don’t open for several weeks. They are, however, able to run and curl into a ball immediately after birth.

The young will nurse for 72 days before the mother weans it. After 9-12 months, the young armadillo is considered sexually mature and is able to have a baby of its own.

Fun Facts

  • Usually only 7 of these armadillos found in a square km
  • Considered endangered in Brazil
  • This species has less chromosomes than other species (2n=38 compared to others 2n=50 to 64)
  • Believed to be extinct until early 1990s when a few were found- is extirpated from much of its natural range (currently the population is on the decline)
  • Related to sloths and anteaters
  • Scientists are still trying to learn more about this species- the small population number makes research difficult
  • Only armadillo endemic to brazil
  • Shell is considered to be a modified skin (unlike a turtle who’s shell is made of bone) and has small hairs on its plates

Conservation Messaging

The biggest threat to their species is hunting pressures. Humans find them easy to catch and kill. Another major threat to the Brazilian three banded armadillo is habitat destruction from both mining (charcoal) and agricultural developments in their native ranges. The two things most frequently grown in their home ranges are sugar cane and soybean plantations. Other large plots of land are being cleared to house livestock.

In both of the types of habitat where this species is found, there are protected areas for them to live although there is no protected land in the area of highest population density at this time.

Reintroduction programs have been suggested for areas of their natural range where the population is slipping further. In addition, education programs hope to encourage locals to decrease hunting pressures.