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Armadillo Evidence of Intrusion

Because they walk on the tips of their feet, they tend to leave three-toed tracks that resemble bird footprints, with prominent marks made by each hindfoot. Foreprint about 1 3/4" (45 mm) long, 1 5/8" (40 mm) wide; hindprint more than 2" (50 mm) long, 1 5/8" (40 mm) wide. In sand or dust, tracks are blurred and appear almost hoof-like. In soft earth or mud, occasionally all toes show more or less clearly. Forefoot has 4 toes: long middle ones closely spaced, much shorter outer 2 spread wide. Hindfoot has 5 toes more evenly spread: middle 3 long, outer 2 short, with no separation from heelpad. Trail sometimes shows only occasional footprints, as some are obliterated by the drag marks of the armor shell.

 

Burrows, with entrance holes about 6–8" (150–200 mm) across, often along creek banks or hillsides. When foraging, often leaves patches of torn-up soil or leaf litter like those left by a skunk. A dug-up anthill is a good sign that an armadillo is present.

 Scat: Looks like clay marbles and consists chiefly of clay, for an armadillo consumes much soil as it feeds on insects.

Interesting Facts About Armadillos

The armadillo is one the most interesting creatures you could find in your yard. Its armored body and tail lend many to envision our prehistoric past when they see an armadillo crossing their path. The armadillo has many behavior traits as well that have led the way to some tall tales about the animals.  This page highlights some of the more interesting truths and myths of the armadillo.

Armadillo Interesting Facts-Behavior

  • After preying on ant hills, Nine-banded armadillos often roll around vigorously.  Why?  Ants are a favorite of the armadillo, but as one might presume, if one dines on an ant hill they might acquire some uninvited guests.  This vigorous rolling could be attributed to the animal trying to remove ants from their outer plates!
  • All armadillos can roll into an armored ball when threatened.  Not true.  Only one (1) variety has the capability of completely rolling into a ball, the Three- banded armadillo.  This variety is found only in South America.


Armadillo Interesting Facts-Burrows

  • They may have up to twelve (12) burrows that can be from 20 inches to 6 feet below the surface.

The armadillo spends most of its time underground.  It both lives and feeds under the earth so it should be no surprise that the animal can have quite a complex set of burrows.  For more detailed information on the physical size of the burrows please visit our Evidence of Intrusion page.

  • Armadillos will share their burrows with members of the same sex.

Roommates are not an issue with the armadillo. These animals are one of the least aggressive mammals on earth! Watch out for new moms, however, who tend to be a little more discriminating with their roommates!

  • Days are spent in whichever burrow is closest when the sun rises.  Getting out of harm's way is more important that being in the home you built.

Armadillo Interesting Facts-Reproduction

  • The female always gives birth to four (4) identical young.   This means that there are always four (4) brothers or four (4) sisters born; never a combination of both! And, believe it or not, the young are born in the spring and have been known to begin breeding the same summer!

Armadillo Interesting Facts-Transportation/Expansion

  • The Nine-banded armadillo is the only armadillo species that can swim.    To achieve buoyancy it inflates its stomach and intestines with air. It can also cross a small river or stream by holding its breath and walking across the bottom for up to six (6) minutes!
  • The Nine-banded armadillo is a common stow away That's right! Nine-banded armadillos have been known to regularly stow away aboard trains which have helped them get around the southern United States.

Armadillo Interesting Facts-Nicknames

  • Armadillo, AKA, Grave Diggers in rural Texas  The armadillo is a digger and freshly turned dirt would make for easy pickin's - you fill in the rest!
  • The Nine-banded armadillo’s population has risen such that they are beginning to find a new natural predator - the car!  Yes, indeed, the increase in armadillos in the south central United States has earned it the nickname, “Hillbilly Speed Bump”.
  • Armadillo tastes like pork-according to many a connoisseur The "Hoover Hog" is a nickname that came about during the 1920's when President Hebert Hoover presided over the nation claiming as part of his campaign promises a "chicken in every pot".  When, instead, his presidency occurred during the great depression which forced many families to dine on more affordable fare-the armadillo!  The flavorful armadillo is still considered to be good eating in many parts of the Americas.

Armadillo Diet

The Armadillo's diet consists mostly of insects.  They do most of their feeding on insects they find under your lawn and garden beds! That is why you may awake one morning to find your once pristine and level yard has been turned into a sight many have likened to Swiss cheese.

Armadillo Diet: Foods Armadillos

forage for insects, spiders, and small amphibians. They seem to prefer beetles, ants and termites in their original range.  However, since the mammal has been in the United States they have broadened their horizons with respect to their diet. According to research the armadillo diet includes up to 500 types of food and they appear to be of the few natural predators to the fire ant. They are also known to adapt to eating a more vegetarian diet -bad news for your shrubs and plants!  Armadillos have been known to kill and eat young cottontail rabbits and to eat scraps of carrion. Although the nine-banded armadillo is often accused of eating the eggs and young of ground nesting birds such as quail, birds and their eggs make up less than 0.4% of the armadillo diet.

Armadillo Diet: Physical Attributes

The Armadillo’s diet is secured through the skillful use of its many physical attributes.  From the tip of its nose to the tip of its tail this animal is built for success in securing food. The armadillo uses its long nose to loosen soil before its stocky legs begin to work.  The skill with which they can dig is due to its short, strong legs and very sharp claws that top each toe. The armadillos’, or “the little armored one”, as its name means in Spanish, front legs have four (4) toes, each with sharp, soil cutting claws.  The middle two (2) toes are the longest.  The claws act as sharp cutters while the powerful front legs dig at the loosened soil pushing it under the animal's body. Then the hind legs take over by grabbing the soil and pushing it out of the way.  The armadillo’s hind legs have five (5) toes with the middle three (3) longer than the outer set to help grab and move the soil.

Now we know how the armadillo is able to get to all those great tasting beetles, but how does he know where to find them?  Working at night and underground this visually challenged animal continues to survive quite nicely, but how? Not surprisingly armadillos are equipped with an excellent sense of smell. While in search of supper the Nine-banded armadillos rely primarily on this heightened sense of smell to locate food items, visiting shallow burrows searching for trapped invertebrates, their nose just above the ground, they are able to smell dinner up to 20 cm below the surface. 

When your digging in the dirt you will appreciate all the extra help you can get in grabbing dinner.  Indeed, the armadillo's diet of live insects requires a little help.  In the case of the armadillo a sticky tongue does the trick. Armadillos secrete a sticky saliva that helps the tongue grab onto insects Their tongues are also equipped with rear facing "hooks" that help hang on to their live prey.

Armadillo Diet: Seasonal Variances

Though not often found in areas where there are dramatic seasonal changes, i.e. northern climates, the armadillo's diet does change based on the season.  While the preferred armadillo diet item is the beetle, when it is unavailable they will settle.  When necessary, the armadillo will supplement its diet with fruits, berries and amphibians.

Armadillo Diet: Affect on Mating Cycles

Armadillos, like all species, need to maximize reproduction in order to survive. The best time for the birth of armadillo young is when the food representing the young armadillo’s diet is most available.  Consequently, the mating season for the mammal is in July and August and the birth of the four (4) identical babies occurs in April the following year, coinciding with the best season for the scarab beetle and other insects that make up over 70 percent of the armadillo diet.

Armadillo Diet-Benefits to Humans and the Ecosystem

The armadillo’s preference for scarab beetle makes their digging activities somewhat forgivable for many agriculturalists.  Scarab beetles can be devastating to corn and potato crops and the growing populations of armadillos could be considered a natural, non-harmful method of controlling this potentially devastating agricultural pest!

Armadillos’ affinity for ants and scorpions is also pleasing to many. However, for the backyard gardener and homeowners who take pride in their landscaping, damage caused by the digging may outweigh the benefits that result from the armadillo diet.

Armadillo Habitat

Armadillo habitat is limited based on several factors. Armadillo habitats are not found in arid regions, such as deserts, or very cold areas. Because the armadillo’s circulatory system includes hot blood going out through arteries and being cooled by cold blood coming in through veins, a propensity for frostbite excludes very cold regions from being populated by armadillos. All armadillo species, except for the Nine-banded armadillo, are threatened by habitat loss and over-hunting.

Armadillo Habitat-Range

While armadillo habitat is limited by temperature it remains expansive.  The Nine-banded armadillo, one of 19 species of armadillos, is found throughout several continents including South, Central and North America, and is the only species of armadillo found in North America.  Armadillo habitats for all species are found as far south as Argentina in South America with the Nine-banded varieties extending as far north as Oklahoma and into Missouri in North America.

Armadillo habitat is not limited by water as a physical barrier.  A relatively new resident of the United States, the armadillo arrived here around 1850 by crossing the Rio Grande River from Mexico into Texas.  Based on their physical appearance it is hard to believe that this armored creature can swim for long distances but they have a rather interesting trait that allows for them to cross rivers-they can hold their breath!  Scientists have determined that the armadillo can inflate its stomach and intestines by pulling in air, thereby increasing its buoyancy and allowing it to float across wider rivers.  Additionally, an armadillo can simply hold its breath in its lungs, like you and I, and walk across the bottom of narrow streams, thus creeks and streams do not adversely affect the armadillo habitat.

Though, the state of Florida makes an inviting habitat for the armadillo, their presence there has been attributed mostly to those that have escaped from zoos and traveling circuses. The territory of those two (2) populations has merged into one (1) widening range consequently expanding the armadillo habitat greatly.    

Armadillo Habitat-Climate

Armadillos live in temperate and warm habitats, keeping them from expanding their range beyond the southern regions of the US. Having a lower body temperature than most mammals they cannot tolerate long periods of cold weather. They tolerate short periods by hiding in their underground burrows. The Nine-banded armadillo will begin to shiver at about 71 degrees Fahrenheit. The earth around a cozy burrow, however, keeps things a bit warmer than the outside and as such allows the armadillo to inhabit areas further north that have milder winters.  That said, it has been determined that the armadillo will not be able to survive in a climate where the average January temperature gets much below freezing.

The amount of rainfall in the area is also important to determining armadillo habitat.  It has been estimated that they prefer to live in climates that provide up to 38 cm of rainfall annually.  Reasons for this have been hypothesized to include associations between rainfall amounts and the quantities of food available, and the effect rainfall has on soil conditions.  As long as sufficient food and water supplies are available, Nine-banded armadillos are very adaptable to many different habitats.

Armadillo Habitat-Soils

Because they dig for both food and shelter the armadillo is very particular about the soils that it inhabits.  Armadillos will prefer your yard and gardens if the soil is soft and/or you have rotting wood nearby (rotting wood will be home to ants and termites that the animal finds irresistibly delicious!). Sandy soils are preferred over clay because the heavy clay soils make digging more difficult. The naturally shallow and rocky soils found in central Texas make very attractive Nine-banded armadillo habitats.

Armadillo Benefits & Detriments to Humans and the Ecosystem

All armadillos are most entirely beneficial animals as they eat many unwanted insects, such as ants and other insects that can be harmful to you or your landscape. For example, spiders, scorpions and fire ants! The scarab beetle which is their favorite food, is responsible for heavy crop damage and armadillos actually help farmers in keeping healthy crops!

The Florida panther, F. concolor coryi, is an endangered animal of which the armadillo serves as an important food source.

On the flip side the Nine-banded Armadillo is a natural carrier of Hansen's Disease, otherwise known as leprosy, and have provided the only animal model useful for the study of leprosy (Mycobacterium leprae). Researchers use armadillos to trace the disease's progression and pathology, and to develop vaccines.

Conversely, in the state of Florida there is growing concern that the armadillo may be eating the eggs and taking over the nesting sites of the Loggerhead turtle eggs; however, for the most part there is very little that is truly detrimental to humans from the armadillo.

Armadillo Behavior

Armadillos are diggers. Like many burrowing animals, the Armadillo's diet consists mainly of insects. Depending on how many armadillo visitors you may have, this landscape visitor can uproot your carefully tended perennials and leave your lawn looking like Swiss cheese in search of a good meal overnight!

Nocturnal by nature the armadillo does most of his burrowing in the late evening, early morning and under the cover of darkness. This has been the woe of many a conscientious gardener who has gone to sleep one evening after working so diligently on their prized perennial bed and lawns only wake the following morning to find the plants uprooted and holes everywhere! That said, they are built for this very purpose. Short legs and strong claws aid in the digging process whether they are digging for food or for shelter.

The armadillo lives and forages mostly underground. Their burrows can be at lengths into the 20 feet range and depths approaching six (6) feet!

This nocturnal habit allows for the eyesight of the armadillo to be very poor; however, their sense of smell is very keen. If you are positioned downwind from one, he may not see you, but you can bet once a breeze comes through he will know you are there and proceed to run accordingly. And despite those short legs, he can run very, very fast over short distances.

Armadillo Physical Appearance

Armadillo is a Spanish word meaning “little armored one”. The aptly named Nine-Banded Armadillo has nine “bands" of bony plates around its body known as scutes. Despite what many may think, there is only one (1) armadillo species that can completely curl up into a well armored ball, the Three Banded Armadillo which is found only in South America. Nonetheless, these hard, bony plates serve the animal well as far as a hard outer covering can for protection. The hard shell covers most of the soft parts and proves to be a invaluable natural defense!

Weighing in at a small 12 -15 pounds and measuring close to 45 inches (including a 14 inch tail) this docile, mostly non-aggressive animal can wreak a bit of havoc in your landscape.

The lifespan of the armadillo can range from 8 years to 20 years. Scientists attribute this rather extensive range to their habitat, and the extended length of some to the lack of natural enemies. Some the natural enemies the armadillo faces in North America include the Florida panther, wolves, coyotes, black bear, jaguars and raptors, and the automobile.

Armadillo Natural History

Armadillos are small mammals that originated in South America. Their closest relatives are the sloth and anteater.

As with most mammals it is believed that the ancestors of our nine-banded armadillo came to the North American continent via the short-lived Panamanian land bridge three (3) million years ago; many of which went extinct.

A relatively new resident to North America, the modern day armadillo did not take up residency in the United States until about 150 years ago. Prior to 1850 this backyard visitor was not seen north of the Rio Grande River. They have been very successful in the southern United States. So much so that, according to Michigan State University, their northward "march" and continued colonization has puzzled many biologists. Scientists have determined that the degree of range expansion per year is nearly ten times faster than the average rate expected for any mammal!

Nine Banded Armadillo

Scientific Name: Dasypus novemcinctus (L.)
Classification:
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Xenarthra
Family: Dasypodidae
Subfamily: Dasypodinae

Armadillos in your yard and garden, if you reside in North America, are most certainly the Nine-Banded Armadillo. While there are many different species of the common yard visitor throughout the world, 20 in fact, the Nine-Banded Armadillo, pictured here, is the most wide spread and the only one found in North America. The other species such as the Giant Armadillo the largest variety, and the Pink Fairy Armadillo the smallest are just as important to the ecosystem, but because they are less common, most of the information contained herein pertains to Nine-Banded variety.

Cultivating Garden Style

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