10 Things You Did Not Know About Armadillos

Armored "anteaters"

  Giant armadillo (Priodontes giganteus), the largest species
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1.The name of "armadillo" comes from the Spanish "armado" (armored), the name being given after the Spanish conquistadors.

2.Today there are 20 species of armadillos. They evolved in South America and only one species entered North America, the nine-banded armadillo.

Living species vary in body length from 12.5 cm (5 in) to 1 m (3.3 ft), but extinct species could be 3 m (10 ft) long and 2 tonnes heavy! The giant armadillos disappeared at the end of the Ice Age, meaning that the first humans in America met them. In fact, their huge shells were used for making roofs or tombs.

3.The main trait of the armadillos is their bony shell, made of hard bony plates forming protective rigid shields over their hips and shoulders, joined by a number of flexible bands in the middle part of the body. Hairy armadillos have up to 18 bands, while the three banded armadillo, as its name suggests, just 3.

The upper head and tail are protected by shields, too, while the ventral parts are covered by soft, scaly skin, sometimes hairy.

4.Armadillos live from semideserts to mountain pastures and forest edges and river banks. Some species are diurnal and other are nocturnal. These mammals live solitary, in pair or small groups. They usually rest in dens, which can have a depth of several meters, sometimes with large underground rooms that can be up to 2 m (6.6 ft) wide. The individual or the group has a territory varying with the habitat and food availability.

5.Armadillos have a varied diet, from insects and their larvae to small reptiles and mammals, and also plants, especially during the winter. Armadillos can kill snakes by launching themselves upon these reptiles and cutting them with the edge of their hard shell.

Many species dig under the corpses of big animals to get to the larvae feeding on the carrion; some species are specialized for ants and termites. The nine banded armadillo can eat 40,000 ants once, while giant armadillo can ingest 700 g (1.5 pounds) of ants (meaning 200,000 ants) in just one night.

During the summer, nine banded armadillo is active after evening, while in the winter, just during the warmest part of the day. All armadillos base on their smell when foraging.

6.Nine banded armadillo mates during the autumn, but the egg fecundation is delayed so that birth takes place in the spring.

Armadillos are unique amongst mammals through their breeding pattern: from the sole egg form four identical twins. That's why always an armadillo litter contains offspring of the same sex. The young armadillos are born well developed, with open eyes and can walk in just a few hours. They are covered by a soft skin that gradually hardens as they grow up.

7.If an armadillo is surprised by a predator on open terrain, it will retreat its feet under the shell's edge and touches the soil with the edges of the shell.

8.The armadillo is the only other species except humans which can get leprosy. This makes them extremely valuable in the research of this disease.

9.Armadillos closest relatives are anteaters and sloths.

10.These three groups are called Edentata ("Toothless"), but only anteaters are totally devoid of teeth; armadillos and sloths miss only incisor and canine teeth.

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By    3 Jan 2008, 13:10 GMT