The Armadillo,  One the World’s Strangest Creatures

One of the strangest animals on this earth is the armadillo.  It is the only living mammal with thin bony shells covering its upper body.  Sparse hairs protrude from between the bony plates on the upper (or dorsal side) and on the underneath or ventral side.  Armadillos are native to South America where there are presently 20 separate species.  In the U. S., only the nine-banded armadillo (Dasypus novemcinctus) is present in some southernmost states where its distribution varies depending on climate issues.  Armadillos are semi-fossorial, that is, they dig burrows in the soil–where they sleep.  People who have sampled the armadillos’ flesh say it is similar to chicken or pork in flavor.  South American gauchos treat armadillos as” traveling lunch boxes”—to be thrown into campfires and roasted. *

In the nine-banded armadillo, four young are born in March or April. They soon begin walking and accompanying their mother searching for food nocturnally.  They have a keen sense of smell.  Food items include mostly insects, some invertebrates, even amphibians and/or reptiles, other vertebrates.  Some vegetation including seeds are also eaten.  Man appears to be the only serious predator.  Home ranges are usually less than 50 acres, some significantly less and overlap with other armadillos, with no territoriality.   An armadillo may have 4 to 8 burrow systems some of which may be shared with other vertebrates.  Known parasites include fleas, T. cruzi and helminths,  Armadillos have the ability to swim or even walk under water and are responsible for some crop damage. **

In a recent article in the Journal of Mammalogy, a study was conducted in the plains (pampas) of Argentina.  The study looked at how the nature of agricultural plots of rangeland and soybean cultivation affected the activities of 2 species of armadillos, Chaetophractus villosus and Dasypus hybridus.

The study found that the type of plot, except summer-spring, determined variation in D. hybridus activity.  C. villosus utilized agricultural lands with a longer history of non-cultivation.  On the other hand, D. hybridus was more active in agricultural lands with less human usage, especially in the fall.

Overall, C. villosus and D. hybridus were found to be more sensitive to structural characteristics of the land (stubble characteristics-vegetation structure and soil features) rather than whether the land was being used as crop fields or rangeland.

The attached armadillo photo by Dario Podesta is Chaetophractus villosus also commonly known as the large hairy armadillo.

*Wetzel, R. M. 1979.  Wild animal of North America.  National Geographic Society, Washington, D.C.

**McBee, K. and R. J. Baker.  1982.  Dasypus novemcinctus.  Mammalian Species 162.

***Abba, A.M., E. Zufiaurre, M. Codesido, and D. N. Bilenca.  2016.  Habitat use by armadillos in agroecosystems.  Journal of Mammalogy 97(5): 1265-1271.