Little Armored Ones

By Bonnie Chasteen | May 1, 2016
From Xplor: May/June 2016

The nine-banded armadillo is native to Mexico, but now it’s found in Missouri, mostly in the south. Only cold weather slows its movement north. That’s because it has little defense against the cold. Instead of fur, this strange-looking mammal has thin hair between its hardened plates of skin. It also has a low body temperature, and it doesn’t hibernate. So it sticks to places where it can dig a snug burrow, stay warm, and find things to eat all year-

Can the nine-banded armadillo roll up into a ball? Nope. Only the three-banded armadillo can do that, and it lives in Brazil.

Superior Sniffers

A long nose is good for sniffing, and that’s how armadillos find their food. They root along the ground for ants, beetle larvae, and worms. They gobble the occasional lizard, mushroom, or fruit bit, too. They use their sharp claws to dig up food, and then flick it into their mouths with their long, sticky tongues. Nom, nom, nom

Two large plates and nine smaller bands surround the armadillo’s middle. More plates cover the head, short legs, and tail.

They Dig Burrows

Armadillos spend most of their time sleeping and hanging out in their burrows, which they dig using their large, shovel-like front claws. Female armadillos take extra care choosing where to dig nest burrows to keep their babies safe.

How did armadillos get from Mexico all the way up to Missouri? Probably across bridges and shallow streams. The armadillo can hold its breath for up to six minutes, and it can swim or walk along stream bottoms.

Tough but Jumpy

The armadillo’s armor covers almost its whole body. In fact, the word “armadillo” means “little armored one” in Spanish. Maybe armadillos need all this protection to make up for bad eyesight and poor hearing. They also jump 3 to 4 feet straight up into the air when frightened, which explains why they’re often hit by cars and trucks. Ouch!

Armadillos are tough everywhere except their tummies. If a coyote or bobcat can flip one over, it’s curtains for the armadillo.

Like Four Peas in a Pod

Armadillos nearly always have four identical babies, either all boys or all girls. The young are born with no shell, but their eyes are open, and they can move around. They mainly just chill with mom in their burrow. Like most baby mammals, they survive on mom’s milk the first several weeks of life.

They Love the Night Life

Armadillos are nocturnal. That means they’re active at night. They prefer places with plenty of water and loose dirt, like Missouri’s oak-hickory and shortleaf pine forests in the Ozarks. They can run fast when pursued, so you might hear them scuttling through your campsite after dark, especially if you camp in low-lying woods near water.

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This Issue's Staff

Bonnie Chasteen
Les Fortenberry
Karen Hudson
Angie Daly Morfeld
Noppadol Paothong
Marci Porter
Mark Raithel
Laura Scheuler
Matt Seek
David Stonner
Nichole LeClair Terrill
Stephanie Thurber
Cliff White