If you live in the United States and happen to reside in Texas or one of the other Gulf Coast states, you have seen a short-legged mammal with an oval-shaped bony plate covering its back, legs, head, and tail walking along the side of the road. Its plate is usually referred to as its shell or armor. The shell is a greyish-brown color with between 7 and 11 band-shaped breaks going around it. It has a pointy snout on a long head with small black eyes, long claws, and a tapering tail. This mammal species, the nine-banded armadillo, averages 2 feet 6 inches in length and weighs on average 12 pounds. The nine-banded armadillo has a life span of around 10 years in the wild and is the only species of armadillo found in the United States. It is found in abundance along the Gulf Coast because of the warm, moist climate, but it has been spotted as far north as the state of Missouri. It was named the small mammal of Texas in 1995. The name armadillo is Spanish and means little armored one.
During warm months in the United State the armadillo is rarely seen. It leaves its burrow only at night in search of food. During the cooler months it can be seen in the day taking advantage of the warmth from the sun.
Ten percent of an armadillo’s diet consists of plants, small reptiles, and baby mammals. Most of the time it feasts on invertebrates like beetles, larvae, worms, termites, cockroaches, grasshoppers, ants, maggots, and snails. These delicious appetite pleasers can be a nuisance in and around a home so a pet armadillo might sound like something to consider getting. Be aware though, an armadillo can be a carrier of the bacterium that causes leprosy in humans. You would have to handle it frequently or eat its meat to contract this disease from an armadillo.
The long claws of the armadillo are needed to dig a burrow where it lives to avoid extreme weather and predators. A burrow is between 7 and 8 inches wide and 15 feet deep. The armadillo likes to dig a burrow in forested areas and grasslands with porous, loose soil.
The armadillo has a variety of predators. These include cougars, coyotes, wolves, alligators, bobcats, and large raptors. When it comes to escaping its enemies, the armadillo is smart. If alarmed, it can move with surprising speed and quickly dig a shallow trench where it can hide. The predator will try to break the armadillo’s shell or grab its tail, but eventually it gives up and moves on to find another food source.
Man is also an enemy of the armadillo. Humans harvest them for their meat and shells. Thousands are killed each year by vehicles, some intentionally and some by accident.
The nine-banded armadillo likes to live a solitary life except during breeding season. A female armadillo begins to reproduce after one year and continues every year until death. Within the life span of one female, she can have up to 56 young. Each birth usually produces four identical quadruplets.
If you live in an area where there are armadillos, take a minute to find its beauty.