Armadillos: Dasypodidae

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ARMADILLOS: Dasypodidae



The smallest armadillo is the pink fairy armadillo, which is 5 to 6 inches (12.7 to 15.2 centimeters) long and weighs 4.2 ounces (120 grams). The largest family member is the giant armadillo, which is 4.9 feet (1.5 meters) long and weighs 66 pounds (30 kilograms).

"Armadillo" is Spanish for "little armored one." The armadillo's protective armor is the turtle-like shell, or carapace, made up of round, bony plates. Between the hard plates on the armadillo are bands of softer skin. Hair grows between the plates. Shell colors include brown, gray, and yellow. Body color is usually gray or brown. Hair is usually white and pale yellow. The pink fairy armadillo has a pink shell and white hair.

Armadillos have bony plates on their backs. Some have plates on their heads, and plates cover some armadillos' tails. The shell protects the armadillo from predators, animals that hunt and kill armadillos for food.

The arrangement of plates and bands in the Dasypodidae family varies within subgroups called genera (JEN-uh-rah) and species. The family is divided into eight genera. A genus (JEE-nus), the singular of genera, is a group that shares similar characteristics. For example, members of the genus Tolypeutes are three-banded armadillos.

Armadillos have tiny eyes and poor eyesight. Some species have short snouts, or noses, while others have long, tube-shaped snouts. Armadillos have long tails and short limbs. They use claws on their limbs to dig for food and to burrow, digging a hole or tunnel for sleeping or hiding from predators.


The nine-banded armadillo is the only armadillo living in the United States. Armadillos live in the South American countries of Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, French Guiana, Guyana, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname, Uruguay, and Venezuela. Some armadillo species range in Mexico and the Central American countries of Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Panama.


Armadillos live in the desert, grassland areas with few trees, and various types of forests, including rainforests, coniferous forests, and deciduous forests. In all habitats, armadillos sleep in burrows, holes, or tunnels they make by burrowing.


Armadillos eat beetles, ants, termites, and worms. They sometimes eat snakes, frogs, and plants. Their diet is based on what is available in their habitat.


Armadillos are usually crepuscular (kri-PUS-kyuh-lur), active at dawn and dusk, and nocturnal, active at night. Some species are active during the day, and many species look for food during the day when the weather is colder.

Armadillos are solitary, staying alone until they mate. Armadillos are thought to be polygamous (puh-LIH-gah-mus), having more than one mating partner. After mating, the male leaves, and the female raises the young. Females bear from two to twelve pups, depending on the species.


People in Texas have seen nine-banded armadillos playing in shallow water. However, armadillos can do more than splash and take mud baths. Armadillos can swim across a body of water or walk underneath water. Armadillos swim by taking in air to inflate their stomachs. Then they float while paddling with their paws. In addition, armadillos can sink and remain on the ground below water for six to ten minutes.

Predators that hunt armadillos include jaguars, wolves, wild dogs, and alligators. As a defense, the armadillo burrows and curls up so that little of its soft flesh is exposed. The three-banded armadillo can roll itself into a ball.


People have found various uses for armadillos. They have eaten their meat and made purses and baskets out of their shells. Some people keep armadillos as pets.

While sometimes resented for the burrows they dig, armadillos eat insects that cause damage. In addition, doctors study nine-banded armadillos because they are the only mammals besides humans that contract leprosy (LEH-pruh-see), a skin disease. Research of armadillos could help treat people diagnosed with leprosy.


The giant armadillo and pink fairy armadillo are Endangered, facing a very high risk of extinction, or dying out, according to the World Conservation Union (IUCN). The main threat is habitat loss as trees are cut down. The use of land for farming reduces fairy armadillo habitat and development has cut into the amount of giant armadillo habitat. Furthermore, domestic dogs kill small armadillos, and people hunt giant armadillos for their meat.

Four other armadillo species are Vulnerable, facing a high risk of extinction in the wild.


Physical characteristics: Although named nine-banded armadillos, these brown and gray mammals have from seven to eleven bands on their backs. Nine-banded armadillos are about 25.4 inches (64.6 centimeters) long and weigh up to 15 pounds (6.8 kilograms). Tails measure 9.5 to 14.6 inches (24 to 37 centimeters) in length. They have protective armor on their tails and heads, and have visible ears and small eyes. Nine-banded armadillos have strong claws, a powerful sense of hearing, and poor vision.

Also known as common long-nosed armadillos, nine-banded armadillos use their long noses to smell ants and other prey hunted for food.

Geographic range: Nine-banded armadillos live in the United States, Mexico, Belize, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, French Guiana, Grenada, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, and Peru.

Habitat: Nine-banded armadillos live in coniferous forests, and also range in grassland areas like prairies, where there are fewer trees.

Diet: These armadillos eat ants, beetles, other insects, snails, and worms. They also eat larvae (LAR-vee), the early, often worm-like forms of insects, such as a caterpillar that later changes into a butterfly. They sometimes eat fruit.

Behavior and reproduction: Nine-banded armadillos are crepuscular and nocturnal, but may also be active in the daytime during the winter. They are solitary unless breeding.

The female can give birth only once a year. She usually mates with one male, but males may mate with other females. After the male fertilizes the female's egg, it takes four months or longer before the egg is implanted (attached) in the uterus. After implantation, the female gives birth in about two months to four young.

When frightened, armadillos can jump 3 to 4 feet (0.9 to 1.2 meters) in the air. This action can scare predators like dogs, coyotes, wildcats, and bears. Cars are a threat to armadillos; a vehicle may pass over an armadillo without hurting it, but if the motion startles the armadillo, it may jump, hit the underside of the car, and die.

Nine-banded armadillos and people: The nine-banded armadillo became the Texas state mascot in 1981. In the 1930s, people ate armadillos during the Great Depression, a time of high unemployment. People called armadillos "Hoover hogs" and "Texas turkeys." The first name referred to President Herbert Hoover, who people blamed for the Depression. Some people still eat armadillo—barbecuing the meat or cooking armadillo chili. Texans began holding armadillo races during the 1970s. Researchers also study the armadillo to develop treatments for leprosy.

Conservation status: Nine-banded armadillos are not threatened. ∎


Physical characteristics: Pink fairy armadillos are approximately 5.9 inches (15 centimeters) long and weigh 4.2 ounces (120 grams). The armadillo has a pink shell and thick, white fur on its sides. The shell is attached to the backbone and covers the top of the armadillo's head. The shell extends on the back but doesn't cover the armadillo's rear.

Pink fairy armadillos have small eyes and ears, and pointed noses. They cannot move their tail up and down, so the tail drags on the ground.

Geographic range: Pink fairy armadillos are found in Argentina.

Habitat: Pink fairy armadillos live in central Argentina in grassland and sandy plains where thorn bushes and cacti (KACK-tie, or KACK-tee; plural of cactus) grow. The armadillos often dig burrows in dry soil near ant nests. When rain wets the ground where they live, armadillos move to another place.

Diet: Pink fairy armadillos eat ants most of the time. Their diet also includes snails, worms, roots, and other plant material. The armadillos sometimes eat carrion, the flesh of dead animals.

Behavior and reproduction: Pink fairy armadillos are nocturnal and are strong diggers. They eat at night and spend the day in their burrows. The armadillos are solitary until they mate. They are thought to be polygamous. The female gives birth to one young. The pup's shell does not become completely hard until it is fully grown.

Pink fairy armadillos and people: There is no known relationship between pink fairy armadillos and people.

Conservation status: Pink fairy armadillos are Endangered, facing a very high risk of extinction in the wild, and the major threat to their survival is agriculture. Habitat is lost as land is plowed for farming. Another threat comes from domestic dogs that kill the tiny armadillos. ∎



Squire, Ann O. Anteaters, Sloths, and Armadillos. New York: Franklin Watts, 1999.


Myers, Kathy. "The Armor-Plated Armadillos." ZooNooz (September 2003): 12–17.

Smith, Dwight G. "The Armored Pig." World and I (August 1999): 174.

Web sites:

"Armadillo." The Handbook of Texas Online. (accessed on June 30, 2004).

"Everyday Mysteries." The Library of Congress. (accessed on June 30, 2004).

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Armadillos: Dasypodidae

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