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Species Description

Nine-banded Armadillo

Dasypus novemcinctus


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Classification

Phylum: Chordata
Subphylum: Vertebrata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Xenarthra
Family: Dasypodidae

Description

Ears, tail base, neck, legs, and belly are covered in a sparse yellowish white hair. Horny "armor" is brownish. About the size of an Opossum or a House Cat, 62 - 80 cm (24.2 - 31.2 in) in total length. This mammal is covered in bony plates, called scutes, that serve as protection against predators. This body armor hangs down on each side of the body, and is divided into flexible bands across the animal's back. Body shape is oval and brownish in color, with a long tapering tail which is also covered in scutes. The head is long and slender, with a pointed snout and large ears. The teeth are simple pegs. The front feet have large, thick, sharp claws which are used for burrowing and digging up food.

Life Cycle

Armadillos have two unique reproductive characteristics. The first is delayed fertilization. Although Armadillos breed in July or August, the eggs are not fertilized immediately, and the young are not born until the following March or April. The second is that because of a phenomenon called polyembryony, a litter of young Armadillos almost always includes 4 identical young of the same sex. The young are born with their eyes open. Within a few hours of birth, they are walking about the underground nest of dried leaves and grasses. They accompany the female on foraging trips outside the burrow within a few weeks, and are weaned at two months of age. Young remain with the female until she breeds again in late summer. Sexual maturity is reached at one year of age.

Natural History

The Armadillo is basically crepuscular and nocturnal, but may be active on cloudy days. It inhabits forests, scrub, and brushlands, but is most abundant in moist, bottomland hardwood forests. The Armadillo digs burrows for nesting and for protection during the day. Burrows can be from 1.2 - 7.3 m (4 - 24 ft) in length and 0.5 m (20 in) deep, and have several entrances, with a nesting chamber at the very end stuffed full of dried leaves and grasses. When foraging, an Armadillo moves under the cover of shrubs and dense vegetation in an erratic and random pattern. It uses a keen sense of smell to locate prey 12.7 - 15.2 cm (5 - 6 in) beneath the soil. The majority of its diet consists of insects, grubs, and worms, but some fruits, bird eggs, and small vertebrates have been recorded. An Armadillo may look slow but can move with great speed for short distances when frightened. It also has the uncanny ability to jump straight up in the air when startled before hitting the ground at a trot. This unusual behavior has made it more susceptible to automobile fatalities because it tends to jump up into the oncoming bumper of a vehicle rather than being straddled and spared. An Armadillo is a good swimmer and has been observed to walk across the bottom of small bodies of water. It can remain submerged for up to six minutes. It has poor eyesight and can be approached closely by a quiet observer. Armadillos have few predators, although both the Mountain lion and the American Alligator are capable of eating adults. The average lifespan of an Armadillo is about four years.

Range

Nine-banded Armadillo Region Map The Armadillo Family is chiefly a tropical one. Records show that in 1854 the range of the Nine-banded Armadillo was restricted to southern Texas. The species has since expanded its range northward to Nebraska and eastward to South Carolina. The expansion of the Armadillo's range east of the Mississippi River was aided by its introduction in Florida and the escape or release of captive animals. In Georgia this species can be found in the Coastal Plain.

Conservation Status

The Nine-banded Armadillo is common in areas of loose soils, and can be hunted in Georgia all year long.

Similar Species

No other species of mammal in North America looks like the Armadillo.