Since completing university, Paul has worked as a bookseller, librarian, and freelance writer. Born in the UK, he now lives in Florida.
Although they have a unique and rather odd-looking appearance, armadillos are nonetheless fascinating creatures to observe and learn about. In this article, I provide 12 facts and also answer some questions (such as "Can you eat armadillos?" and "Can armadillos carry leprosy?").
12 Interesting Facts About Armadillos
- There are twenty different varieties of Armadillo. The smallest is known as the pink fairy armadillo, which is about the size of a chipmunk. The largest is the giant armadillo, which is about the size of a small pig.
- They are closely related to anteaters and sloths.
- They mainly live in South and Central America, most commonly in Paraguay. There are only one species (the nine-banded armadillo) that lives in the USA, mainly in the south-central states, like Texas. The areas where they can be found in the USA have been expanding, however, due to a lack of natural predators, and they are becoming more and more common in places like South Carolina, Florida, Kansas, and Nebraska.
- Their name comes from Spanish and means “little armored one”. This is a reference to the bony plates that cover the back, head, legs, and tail, which are unique to this animal and give it such an odd appearance. The Aztecs called them “turtle-rabbits” in their language.
- Although they are not blind, armadillos do have very poor eyesight and rely very much on their keen sense of smell and hearing to negotiate their environment.
- Armadillos dig burrows and will sleep in them for up to 16 hours per day.
- When it gets frightened, a nine-banded armadillo will jump straight up into the air. This means that it hits the undercarriage or fenders of passing road vehicles and it is this that kills them, rather than being run over by the tires.
- They hunt in the evening and early morning, using their keen sense of smell and claws to seek out and, if necessary, dig out beetles, ants, termites, and other insects. Their long sticky tongues are designed for eating lots of bugs quickly. They will also eat small vertebrates, plants, fruit, and sometimes carrion.
- They escape from danger usually by scuttling into thorny vegetation (where their "armor" protects them), or by digging. The three-banded armadillo can also roll itself into a ball to protect itself.
- Although the nine-band armadillo population is expanding, many other species suffer from habitat loss and over-hunting. Some species, such as the pink fairy, are threatened with extinction.
- The nine-banded armadillo was named the state small mammal by Texas in 1995.
- Armadillos can hold their breath for as long as six minutes if they need to, enabling them to walk underwater when they wish. They can also swim on the surface of the water by inflating their torsos to make themselves float.
Can You Eat Armadillos?
Armadillos can be eaten and their meat is said to resemble pork. Many Central and South American cultures traditionally consume them.
In the USA they are less commonly found on the modern menu but were often eaten during the Great Depression of the 1930s by people who struggled to afford to buy more conventional food. During this period, they gained the name of "Hoover Hogs", after President Hoover, who many felt had let them down by failing to provide enough work for people to afford meat.
Can You Catch Leprosy From an Armadillo?
Armadillos are sometimes used by scientists studying leprosy. They are especially prone to the leprosy bacterium because of their very low body temperature. It is possible for people to acquire leprosy from armadillos by handling them or eating armadillo meat.
Before Europeans came to the Americas in the late 15th century, leprosy was unknown there. That means that armadillos must have caught the disease from people at some point.
What is a Charango and What Does it Have to do With Armadillos?
The charango is an Andean stringed instrument from the lute familly played in Bolivia, Peru, northern Chile, and northwest of Argentina. It was traditionally made using an Armadillo shell to form the back. Nowadays, however, wood is more commonly used.
Due to the large numbers of armadillos that are hit and run over by road vehicles in the US, the animal has been nicknamed the "Texas Speed Bump" and the "hillbilly speed bump".
They have also been called, rather amusingly: "tactical possums" and "pocket dinosaurs".
“I'd never seen a nine-banded armadillo up close before. Anatomically speaking, it resembled the unhappy melding of an anteater (the face), a mule (the ears), and a tortoise (the carapace). I thought it overall an unlucky creature in the looks department, but Granddaddy once said that to apply a human definition of beauty to an animal that had managed to thrive for millions of years was both unscientific and foolish.”
— Jacqueline Kelly, The Curious World of Calpurnia Tate
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2014 Paul Goodman
ely on May 09, 2019:
lol hoover dogs
Demille Vantigo from United States on April 02, 2019:
Amazing creatures. Please treat them humanely! There are many alternatives to killing! https://bit.ly/2UcFAIZ
Mel Carriere from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on October 03, 2014:
I have seen these poor buggers scattered across the highways of Texas and Oklahoma, but I never realized they could jump. Very interesting hub. I hope we can protect them.