Although they are often associated with their defensive behavior of rolling into a sphere, there is much more to these armored mammals. Various types of armadillos have unique traits and behaviors that distinguish them from one another.
We can better understand and appreciate the armadillo species by exploring this biodiversity. Read on to learn more.
Armadillos belong to the family Dasypodidae and Chlamyphoridae, the only two surviving lineages of the order Cingulata. Above this classification is the superorder Xenarthra, which includes sloths and anteaters.
There are 21 living species of armadillos, classified under four subfamilies: Dasypodinae, Chlamyphorinae, Euphractinae, and Tolypeutinae.
The first has only one surviving genus, Dasypus, with nine species. Meanwhile, the other three, which are grouped under one family, have eight genera with one to four species each.
Let’s distinguish and learn about some of the most interesting armadillos in the following section.
The Nine-Banded Armadillo is a mammal throughout North, Central, and South America. Notably, it is the only species of armadillo that lives in the United States.
Its unique silhouette features nine flexible bands of armored shell encircling its midsection. Despite its appearance, these bands are flexible enough to let the armadillo curl into a ball, protecting it against predators.
Nine-banded armadillos are nocturnal creatures that feed mainly on insects and small invertebrates but also eat plant matter. Their sharp claws help them dig into the earth to find food.
After mating, female Nine-Banded Armadillos can delay the implantation of the fertilized egg for up to two years. This strategy allows it to time the birth of its offspring with favorable environmental conditions, which increases the chances of the offspring's survival.
The Seven-Banded Armadillo is a medium-sized species in the grasslands, forests, and savannas of Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, and Paraguay.
This nocturnal creature has seven prominent bands on its shell. The armadillo is a solitary creature, approximately 20-30 inches long.
The armadillo's sharp claws make digging through earth and soil easy, revealing its hidden meals. Its diet consists mainly of insects, small invertebrates, and occasional plant matter.
Moreover, the armadillo's digging skills serve two more purposes. Digging helps the armadillo evade predators and also allows it to construct cozy burrows.
The Six-Banded Armadillo is native to South America. It has a golden-brown shell segmented into six bands, which serves as a survival mechanism by protecting predators.
This type of armadillo observes a unique defensive behavior. Unlike other armadillos, it does not curl into a tight ball when threatened. Instead, it slightly bends its body and uses its front legs to protect its soft underbelly and face.
Six-banded armadillos spend their days hidden in burrows, emerging only at night to search for food. They have a highly developed sense of smell that helps them locate ants, termites, and other small invertebrates. Occasionally, they also consume plant matter.
Interestingly, local folklore considers these armadillos rain heralds; their emergence from burrows indicates imminent rain.
The Gran Chaco region, which spans Paraguay, Argentina, and Bolivia, is home to the Southern Three-Banded Armadillo. Its shell is made up of three movable bands, which gives it flexibility. It is also one of the only armadillos to roll themselves into tight balls.
It is nocturnal and forages for ants and termites, sometimes small invertebrates. Likewise, its sharp claws dig into the ground for food and burrow to escape the heat. The species can also let out a high-pitched scream when it senses danger.
Despite their small size, the Southern Three-Banded Armadillos are proficient swimmers. They inflate their stomach and intestines with air to float.
When it senses danger, the Brazilian Three-banded Armadillo can curl itself into a nearly impenetrable ball of three-banded armor. This species is native to Brazil, primarily inhabiting its eastern regions. They can live in various habitats, including grasslands, savannas, forests, and jungles.
Unlike many other armadillos, they do not dig burrows but instead use natural crevices and holes for shelter.
The Brazilian Three-banded Armadillo spends evenings searching for food, primarily consisting of ants and termites. Its sharp claws and long tongue deftly extract insects from their mounds.
Interestingly, this type of armadillo and the previous three-banded species are the only armadillas that can completely curl into a ball.
Unfortunately, IUCN classifies these armadillos as vulnerable species because of hunting pressures and habitat loss2.
The Giant Armadillo is the largest armadillo species found in South America. It weighs about 66 pounds and can grow up to 39 inches long, excluding its tail. Due to their larger carapace, they cannot completely curl up to form a ball.
Its body is covered with a dark, leathery carapace with pale yellow or white bands. Likewise, its front feet feature large, curved claws that help it dig out ants, termites, and other small creatures from the soil.
Furthermore, Giant Armadillos do more than just survive in their environment. Their burrowing creates homes for many other species, making them essential contributors to biodiversity.
Sadly, the future is uncertain for the Giant Armadillo. The IUCN has classified this giant armored creature as vulnerable. Habitat loss, hunting, and human activity like road accidents and animal trafficking have taken a toll on their populations.
The Pink Fairy Armadillo is a small creature that burrows beneath the surface of Argentina's central grasslands. It is the smallest armadillo family member, with an average length of 3.5 to 4.5 inches. Their name refers to its pink shell and delicate appearance.
Despite its charming appearance, this species is resilient enough to survive its challenging environment. This nocturnal has large, shovel-like claws that help it to burrow quickly and efficiently, allowing it to disappear underground within moments if it senses danger.
Moreover, its walking technique involves using the outer edges of its feet, which protects its digging claws from damage.
Their diet consists mainly of ants, larvae, and other small invertebrates.
The Northern Naked-Tailed Armadillo differs from other armadillos due to its peculiar tail. This species has a relatively unprotected tail, unlike most armadillos' typical armored and scaly tails.
It lives in diverse habitats, from the dry thorn forests of southern Mexico to the lush rainforests of western Colombia and Ecuador. It roams across deciduous woods and vast savannahs.
This type of armadillo mainly feeds on ants, termites, and other small invertebrates, using its long, sticky tongue to forage.
The Southern Naked-Tailed Armadillo has a distinctive bare tail. Instead of large scutes, they are covered with tiny ones the size of a fingernail.
Found all over South America1, from the dense forests of Colombia to the grasslands of northern Argentina, these creatures can live in various environments, even in farming areas.
The Southern Naked-Tailed Armadillo tends to be active during the nighttime and feeds on ants and termites, which it locates with its sharp sense of smell.
It also has sharp claws, which it uses to dig into nests and gather food.
Sensing danger, it retreats into its burrow and blocks the entrance with its armored rear end to protect itself from predators.
The Greater Long-Nosed Armadillo inhabits the vast landscapes of Central to South America. This species is the second largest type of armadillos. They can grow around 21 inches long and weigh up to 29 pounds.
The armadillo's carapace comprises bony plates covered in scales, providing a protective armor against predators. Its carapace color blends brown and black hues with a lighter underbelly.
Greater Long-Nosed Armadillos spend most of their day in burrows, emerging only at night.
Their insectivorous diet comprises arachnids, earthworms, and sometimes invertebrates and fruits when food is scarce.
The Hairy Long-Nosed Armadillo stands out from other armadillo species due to its long, coarse hair coat. This creature inhabits the cold, arid landscapes of Peru and Ecuador's Andean regions. These typically solitary armadillos prefer to dwell in grasslands, forests, and the rugged terrain of mountains.
These hairy armadillos rest most of the day to save energy for their nightly forage. Their diet consists of small invertebrates like ants and termites, which they can easily locate with their remarkable snout and sharp claws.
The Screaming Hairy Armadillo lives in South America's arid and semi-arid regions.
Its name comes from two of its distinguishing features. Firstly, it makes a high-pitched alarm call to alert others of potential danger. Next, it has a thick coat of hair, which gives it a fuzzy appearance.
Moreover, its fur insulates it during the chilly night hours in the desert. It also adapted to its environment by becoming nocturnal, taking shelter in burrows during the daytime, and emerging to feed at night.
This armadillo eats ants, plant matter, and various larvae. It is also an adept hunter, using its long, sticky tongue to catch insects and its sturdy claws to dig up food.
Unlike other armadillo species, the Screaming Hairy Armadillo cannot roll itself into a ball when threatened. Instead, it relies on its alarm call and aggressive nature to deter natural predators.
From the Nine-Banded Armadillo to the Screaming Hairy Armadillo, these armored mammals enrich the planet’s biodiversity by aerating the ground, keeping pest populations in check, and maintaining ecological equilibrium.
Yet, they face several challenges, such as habitat loss, hunting, and climate change. Even if there are no endangered species among the 21 types of armadillos, it is vital to take appropriate action to safeguard their survival.