HISTORY AND DESCRIPTION: Despite their unusual appearance, armadillos are mammals. They are warm-blooded, have bristly hair on their bellies, and nurse their young. They are very primitive mammals, in the same family as anteaters. Armadillos are native to South/Central America and have been introduced into Florida several times in the 20th century, possibly earlier. They eat many insects that are dangerous to crops. However, their tendency to dig for insects makes them pests in grassy yards. Armadillos are grayish brown in color. They are about the size of a cat, but have very short legs. Nine-banded armadillos usually have nine bands on their shell-like armor, but may have from 8 to 11. Their armor is not hard like a turtle's, but has a strip of skin between each band. This makes the armor flexible, allowing the armadillo to curl up, protecting his face and belly from predators. Even its tail is armored. Unexpected noises cause the armadillo to jump straight up. This reflex can surprise a predator, allowing the armadillo to sprint away. Unfortunately, when the sudden noise is a vehicle, it causes the armadillo to leap into the bottom of the car. Armadillos seen crossing highways should always be driven around, rather than straddled, so this reflexive leap will not be its last.
HABITAT, SENSES, FEEDING: The armadillo's habitat is forest near marshy regions, but it can live anywhere that is warm enough and supplies bugs to eat, even your back yard. Their eyes are small, and they do not have color vision. Armadillos do have teeth, but seldom bite. If picked up, their long, sharp digging claws can be dangerous. They make a great deal of noise while foraging for insects and are fairly easy to sneak up on. Armadillos have an excellent sense of smell, and can find a worm or grub eight inches below the surface of the ground. These animals can hold their breath for six minutes. This enables them to dig without inhaling lots of dirt and makes them excellent swimmers. They are generally nocturnal (active at night). Although they are warm-blooded, they are not very efficient at holding their body temperature steady. On very hot days, they avoid the heat and only forage at dawn and dusk. On days with more moderate temperatures, armadillos forage during daylight. They cover up to one kilometer an hour while walking along the ground sniffing for insects. Characteristic signs of their presence are small holes (approximately 2 x 2 inches) dug in the ground during foraging.
BURROWING AND REPRODUCTION: Another characteristic sign of armadillo presence is their burrows, which are roughly circular and about seven inches in diameter. They can reach 20 feet in length and often have 2 or more entrances. The armadillo will enlarge one area of the burrow and bring in leaves to use as bedding. If an entrance is covered with leaves, it is probably not in use by the armadillo. However, another entrance may be active. Also, other animals may use the burrow, including snakes, frogs, burrowing owls, etc. The nine-banded armadillo is unique in that the females have quadruplets, four identical babies, each time they give birth. They have four teats in order to nurse each baby. Armadillos are mature at six months of age.
Grzimeck, Dr. Bernhard. Grzimeck's Animal Life Encyclopedia, Volume 11, Mammals II. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold Company. 1975.
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