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The Armadillo: Prehistoric Armour-Clawed Mammal



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Animals Hairy Armadillo Photo By Arnaud Boucher

Published on December 9th, 2009 | by Yellow Magpie

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The Armadillo: Prehistoric Armour-Clawed Mammal

Hairy Armadillo Photo By Arnaud Boucher

A strange animal potters close to the ground, its nose rolls from one blade of grass to the next. Exotic, weird, an alien, this animal looks like it doesn’t belong. It seems to be alone in its uniqueness. One-of-a-kind. Itself. And perhaps it is.

A prehistoric animal, the armadillo has been around for over 60 million years. A living fossil it is at times difficult to describe this strange animal. A hardy and versatile animal, it is one of the most surreal sights in nature.

Armoured Clawed

One of the most striking characteristics of an armadillos is their body armour. Comprised of plates of bone and a horny material made up of bone, their back is heavily protected against the attack of predators. Although their backs are well protected, they do have soft, vulnerable underbellies.

These creatures are incredible diggers. Using their sharp claws and powerful muscles, they can dig faster than six men with shovels. The Giant Armadillos has claws which are over 20 cm (nine inches) in length. They feed mainly on insects.

Brazilian Three-Banded Armadillo Photo By Chris Stubbs Creative Commons ShareAlike Licence

Brazilian Three-Banded Armadillo Photo By Chris Stubbs Creative Commons ShareAlike Licence

Nine-banded Armadillo

Common in the southern United States, the Nine-banded Armadillo is called after the amount of flexible bands on their back. They are highly unusual because they give birth to identical quadruplets in every litter. The quads are genetically identical. The Nine-banded is the only mammal to display this trait of polyembryony.

Nine Banded Armadillo Photo By Wgfcrafty Creative Commons ShareAlike Licence

Nine Banded Armadillo Photo By Wgfcrafty Creative Commons ShareAlike Licence

Incredibly strong swimmers, they defy their physiology when taking to the water. Because of their body weight the animal naturally sinks. However, they have come up with a novel solution to overcome this hurdle. They inflate their stomachs and intestines with air and this provides enough buoyancy for them to float on top of the water.

Although all armadillos could do this, the Nine-banded successfully managed the impressive feat of navigating the Rio Grande in order to get into the United States in the middle of the 19th century.

Nine Banded Armadillo Photo By (www) birdphotos (dot) com

Nine Banded Armadillo Photo By (www) birdphotos (dot) com

Interestingly, apart from humans and mice, the Nine-banded armadillos is the only animal to suffer from the effects of leprosy.

Three-banded Armadillo

The South American three-banded armadillo is the only species which is able to roll into a ball when threatened. Like the Nine-banded, it too is named after the amount of flexible bands on its back.

Southern Three-Banded Armadillo Photo By Ltshears

Southern Three-Banded Armadillo Photo By Ltshears


Pink Fairy Armadillo

The smallest of the Armadillos, it feeds mainly on insects such as ants. Borrowing its way underground, the Pink Fairy Armadillo preys mainly on ant colonies.

This curious creature is found only in Central Argentina. It has large claws which aid in its digging. The Pink Fairy is nocturnal.

Pink Fairy Armadillo Photo By cliff1066™

Pink Fairy Armadillo Photo By cliff1066™

Relationship With People

Armadillos have an interesting relationship with people. They are at the forefront of medical research into leprosy. As previously mentioned some are lepers. They also provided a valuable food source during times of desperation in the United States. During the Great Depression in the 1930’s many of these creatures were eaten by starving people.

Southern Three-Banded Armadillo In Defensive Mode Photo By FrenchAvatar Creative Commons ShareAlike Licence

Southern Three-Banded Armadillo In Defensive Mode Photo By FrenchAvatar Creative Commons ShareAlike Licence

Vital Statistics

  • These creatures usually grow up to 70 cm (28 inches) in length. However, Giant Armadillos can grow to 1.5 metres (five feet).
  • They weigh over 60kg (131lbs).
  • All 20 species are found only in the Americas.
  • They can live to be up to 20 years old.

Further Reading

The Amazing Armadillo: Geography of a Folk Critter is one of the better books available on the animal. It details their unique characteristics and their relationship with humans. It also includes how they are benefiting human research.

Amazon.co.uk
For people living in Ireland or the United Kingdom you can access The Amazing Armadillo here.

Amazon.ca
For those living in Canada you can obtain The Amazing Armadillo from here.

Amazon.de
For Germany: The Amazing Armadillo.

Amazon.fr
For France: The Amazing Armadillo.


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