Interesting Facts About Armadillos
An odd-looking animal, armadillos are nonetheless fascinating creatures to observe and learn about.
Here are some 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 are the giant armadillos, which are 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 is 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.
Did You Know?
The charango, an Andean stringed instrument from the lute familly played in Bolivia, Peru, northern Chile, and northwest of Argentina, was traditionally made using an Armadillo shell to form the back. Nowadays, however, wood is more commonly used.
- 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.
“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
- 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 this that kills them, rather than being run over by the tires.
Did You Know?
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.
- 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.
Did You Know?
Armadillos were eaten during the Great Depression, when they were known as "Hoover Hogs", after President Hoover, who many felt had let them down by failing to provide enough work for people to afford meat.
The nine-banded armadillo was named the state small mammal by Texas in 1995.
The animal has been nicknamed the "Texas Speed Bump" and the "hillbilly speed bump".
- 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.
- 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.
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© 2014 Paul Goodman