A distant counsin of the sloth and the anteater, the Nine-Banded Armadillo originated in South America. It immigrated to Texas by way of Mexico in the 19th. century. Its name comes from a Spanish word referring to its armor like covering. The shell is made of a bone like casing. In the Nine-Banded Armadillo (the only species of armadillo found in Texas), the armor consists of a large shield over the shoulders, a second large shield over the rump, and nine bands in the middle. Because the shell itself cannot grow nor be replaced as the armadillo grows, it is soft and leathery when the armadillo is born. It does not harden until the armadillo reaches its full adult size of 8 to 15 pounds.
While not as slow as the sloth, the armadillo rarely hurries. Walking on the soles of its back feet and the tips of its claws on its front feet, the armadillo ambles along at no more than a third of a mile per hour. However, the armadillo is able to run when danger threatens. Its hard shell allows it to run through thorny underbrush when fleeing predators.
The armadillo has a particularly interesting method for crossing water. Its heavy armor shell causes it to sink. When faced with a narrow stream or a water filled ditch, the armadillo will simply walk across the bottom, under water. However, when up against a wider body of water, the armadillo will swallow enough air to inflate its stomach to twice its normal size. This increased buoyancy then allows the armadillo to swim across. Afterwards, it takes the armadillo several hours to release all the excess air from its body.
Like its cousin the anteater, the armadillo loves to feast on ants. In fact, it's fond of all kinds of bugs, particularly larval and adult scarab beetles which will wreck havoc on gardens if not controlled. The armadillo has a keen sense of smell and can sniff out a tasty meal six inches underground. When digging for grubs, worms, and other goodies, it leaves behind three to four inch cone shaped holes. It regularly revisits these holes to gobble up any new bugs or snails which may have slipped in. Its sticky, barbed tongue aids it in picking up its food. The armadillo is also known to feed on carrion, with a distinct preference for the maggots it finds there. It has 30 to 32 teeth, all of them peg shaped molars.
The armadillo's shell provides insulation little insulation for its warm blooded body. In the summer, the armadillo does most of its foraging in the cool of the evening and at night. Like the pig, it also enjoys a nice cool mud bath. In the cooler winter months, the armadillo keeps warm in its burrow and does most of its foraging in the warmer hours of the afternoon.
Outside of the breeding season, adult armadillos generally live alone. A single armadillo may have up to 15 burrows (each eight inches in diameter and two to twenty five feet long) in its 10 acre range. Some burrows have several entrances for emergency access, but there is always a main entrance which the armadillo uses most of the time.
An armadillo always bears an identical set of quadruplets, conceived from a single fertilized egg. The initial embryo divides in two and those two embryos divide, in turn, into two more. Thus every armadillo is a clone of its three brothers or its three sisters.
The armadillo is the only animal, aside from humans, known to carry leprosy. For this reason it is illegal to sell a live armadillo in the State of Texas. Leprosy aside, the State of Texas has adopted the armadillo as its official state mammal.
Davis, William. The Mammals of Texas. Austin, Texas: Texas Parks and Wildlife Information-Education Division. 1974.
Ilo, Hillary Introducing Mammals to Young Naturalists. College Station, Texas: A & M University Press. 1990.
Terry Portillo © 1999