Barrel-shaped animals covered with natural armor are called armadillos, which in Spanish, means 'little-armored one'. The armor of the various sized animals works well against most predators, but many of them are often hit by vehicles as they try to cross a road.
In all, there are 21 species of armadillo including the nine-banded, seven-banded, greater fairy, screaming hairy, pink fairy, six-banded, northern naked-tailed, Giant, Brazilian three-banded, and several others. The smallest is the pink fairy, which is only about 6 inches long, and the Giant armadillo is the largest, which can grow to about 5 feet long.
Its armor is made up of overlapping plates which cover their back, head, legs, and tail. The number of armored bands is often used to identify the different species. One species, the three-banded armadillo, can roll itself into a tough armored ball protecting itself against predators. Others may dig a hole quickly and hide so their soft and tender stomach is protected. In this case, only their armor is visible to a predator.
Armadillos are similar to their cousins, anteaters, and have pointy snouts, and long, sticky tongues. They also have poor eyesight but hunt with their highly developed sense of smell. Wiry hairs along their sides and belly are used to feel their way around, and they have strong legs and sharp claws used for digging.
Armadillos live close to the equator because they like areas that are temperate to warm, and they are choosy as to the type of soil found in the area. Most armadillos prefer sandy or loam soils that are loose and porous which makes digging easier to locate food and for creating burrows.
All the species of armadillos live in Central and South America except for the nine-banded armadillo which habitat ranges from Argentina to the southern United States. Nine-banded armadillos have expanded north since the 19th century and can be found in Florida and Missouri, and in 2000, the remains of a nine-armed armadillo were found in central Illinois.
Most armadillos' time is spent sleeping up to 16 hours each day in burrows and during the mornings and evenings, they forage for food. They are not very social creatures and only get together usually to keep warm or mate. For example, during times of cold weather, a group of them may join in a burrow together and share body heat. Some seven-banded armadillos of the same gender will share their burrows with each other as well.
Armadillos eat both plants and meat making them omnivores, and 90% of their diet is made up of insects and larvae. They use their long, sticky tongue to catch ants, beetles, termites, and other insects after digging them out of the ground. In addition, they will eat plants, eggs, some fruit, and small vertebrates, and occasionally will scavenge for dead animals.
The gestation period of the armadillo lasts for 5 months, and the female will give birth to a single offspring up to twelve in a birthing burrow up to 15-feet wide. The babies are called pups and twin births are common. The pups mature very quickly and are weaned in two to four months, and between 9 and 12 months, they are ready to have offspring of their own. Depending on the species, armadillos can live anywhere from 4 to 30 years and the median life expectancy for the three-banded armadillo is about 16 years.
Armadillos can be a wide variety of colors such as pink, red, gray, yellow, or black. They are not endangered, but some of the species have become vulnerable, such as the giant armadillo, whose population has decreased by about 30% over the past 21 years.
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