By Vern and Lori Gieger
A Truly Unique Critter
has poor eyesight, poor hearing, no teeth, leathery skin, and almost
no hair? While you may be thinking I’m describing your neighbor,
I’m not. Although it seems some of us have more in common with
this critter than we would like to admit! However, there is a lot to
know about this very interesting little mammal with tiny eyes, a pig
nose, ears like a donkey and a football shaped body.
Armadillos are an amazing group of animals
that originated in South America.
The English name “armadillo”
is a Spanish word that means “little armored thing.” There
are 20 different species of armadillos, found from the Americas to Argentina.
Like people, armadillos vary in size, shape and color. The giant armadillo
in South America has an impressive three-foot body and weighs as much
as 130 pounds. But, it’s the fairy Armadillo that could cause
one to swear off the booze! About six inches long and bright pink in
color, with plumes of white hair about the face and undersides. The
nine-banded armadillo, which most of us are familiar with, is found
in the southern U.S., as well as here in Jalisco.
Primarily insectivores, they consume large
numbers of grubs, worms and ants, including the infamous fire ant. With
a keen sense of smell, armadillos can detect insects six inches under
the soil. Armadillos are built to dig! Having sharp claws and short,
strong legs, they are well-suited to rapid digging, dinner is easily
obtained; with a long tongue and sticky saliva, insects don’t
stand a chance. It is this digging and rooting that brings them into
conflict with humans; however, their diet includes many harmful insects
and agricultural pests.
Armadillos normally have one litter a
year, born in the spring. All four young, always of the same sex, are
identical quadruplets, developed from the same egg.
Babies are born full miniatures of the adult, with eyes open and soon
walking. Their body shell, which is soft and pink at birth, hardens
and darkens within a few days. They nurse from their mother up to four
Armadillos live in burrows and tend to
have more than one, some being active and others forgotten. Once a burrow
is excavated, an armadillo gathers leaves (holding them against its
belly with their front feet) and hops backwards like a bunny into its
burrow to construct a nest. Biologists have researched armadillo burrows
and found some up to 15 feet in length, complete with curves and many
Contrary to popular belief, armadillos
like water! Armadillos are known to play in shallow water, kicking it
onto their belly and scooting around in it like a pig. Although they
are excellent swimmers and can swim dog paddle style across a creek,
they may choose to float across by inhaling air into their lungs, stomach
and intestines to make them buoyant. Or if they wish to take the scenic
route, they can hold their breath up to ten minutes and walk across
Many species of armadillo are endangered
or threatened. Human encroachment, slash and burn farming, hunting,
and deaths due to domestic dogs account for a large percentage of the
problem. Of the 20 species of armadillo, only one, the nine-banded armadillo,
appears to have stable numbers.