Armadillos: Facts, Characteristics, Behavior, Diet, Habitat

The Armadillo is a mammal in the order Cingulata. Its name is a Spanish term that means “little armored ones”, a nod to both the size and thick shell of these animals.

There are 21 species still in existence today, distinguished by the bands on the armor.1

There’s a lot to know about this interesting mammal, particularly due to its unusual shell.

It is also known for being resilient and a strong survivor. These attributes make the armadillo deserving of a full study.

Scientific Classification

Binomial NameDasypodidae


Length14 to 30 inches
Weight9 to 66 pounds
Skin TypeBoney plates 
HabitatForest and grasslands 
Life span4 to 12 years
Gestation Period122 days
Conservation statusEndangered

5 Interesting Facts About Armadillos 

1. They are vulnerable to human illnesses 

Armadillos can suffer from some illnesses that affect humans. One of the most common is leprosy, and these animals are known to spread the disease.

Also known as Hansen’s disease, it affects our little mammals because of their low temperature. Leprosy is highly infectious, and you should be careful when close to an armadillo.

Humans can get leprosy from this animal by eating its meat, hunting, or inhaling the focal spores. According to a report, about 20% of the armadillo population is considered infected. 

2. They sleep up to 16 hours each day 

The average sleep time for humans is 8 hours, so compared to us these armored mammals sleep for an incredibly long period. They are nocturnal animals and complete all they need to do at night.

They forage, burrow, mate and feed during the dark hours. When the day breaks, they get a shuteye for 16 hours straight. 

Armadillos tend to stay apart from themselves, and it is rare to see two sharing a burrow. They’d rather be with a tortoise, rat, or even a snake.

They are good at foraging during their active periods than most mammals. Only a few like the squirrel and the marsupial can compete with the armadillo. 

3. Only two species can roll into balls

The biggest assumption about these animals is that they all roll into balls. While this is true, it only applies to two species, the Brazilian and Southern three-banded armadillos.

These two belong to the same genus called the Tolypeutes. They don’t actively choose to roll up but do so out of a need to defend themselves.

Other species have too many plates, making it impossible for them to roll up. This doesn’t leave them defenseless, however.

Besides their strong shells, they have other means of defense. One species named the hairy armadillo screams to deter predators. 

4. The largest is the Giant Armadillo 

As the name states, the giant armadillo is the largest living on earth today. Individuals in the wild weigh between 45 and 130 pounds, while those in captivity get up to 176 pounds.

Their length generally gets up to 5.9 feet long, and their claws are the longest of any animal. Its direct opposite is the pink fairy armadillo, the smallest species. 

Unfortunately, this species is classified as endangered by the IUCN. Human activities can largely be blamed for this, including hunting and poaching. 

5. They can swim 

While they’re not aquatic animals, armadillos can handle themselves in water. They are good swimmers, capable of holding their breaths for about 4 to 6 minutes.

This gives them numerous advantages including being able to escape predators on land and increasing their range. 

In shallow waters like streams, these mammals can walk underwater. If it is too deep for their legs to get to the bottom, they paddle through like ducks. 

General Description 

Armadillos and opossums are often considered alike, so much so that the former is called the armored version of the latter. However, they aren’t related.

The armadillo can be described as having a pointed snout, a long tail, big ears, and sharp claws.

They come in a variety of colors, though they’re more known for being plain gray and brown. Other colors include red, pink, and yellow. 

There is no uniform size amongst species as they vary. The biggest is the size of some dogs at 120 pounds of weight. Others may be way smaller than that. 

Of course, the outstanding feature of this animal is its shell. It is made of scales and serves as protection against predators.

This shell even serves as inspiration for armored vests. Though the shell isn’t bulletproof, there have been reports of bullets bouncing off it.2 3

The armor covers mostly the head, body, and parts of the leg. As we pointed out above, not all species can roll into balls. Only two can, and they do this as a defensive mechanism. 

As a whole, their population still seems intact. Many species are classified as the least concern, but this doesn’t apply. Some find themselves declining and are classified as either vulnerable or endangered. 

Distribution and Habitat 

All species are located in the Americas, especially the Central and Southern areas. Only one species is endemic to the United States, and that is the nine-banded armadillo.

There may be more species in the United States as the years go by, but at present there are none. There are no species in other continents like Africa and Asia.

They can live in different habitats because of their ability to adapt, survive and feed on different diets. However, there are specific regions they are more likely to be found.

These include grasslands, wetlands, and rainforests. They also inhabit desert regions. 


As omnivores and foragers, armadillos aren’t picky with their meals. They’ve adapted to feeding a lot during their active hours, so they go after what’s available.

However, they do have favorites. Ants and termites seem to top their lists. Besides those, they feed on spiders, beetles, cockroaches, wasps, snails, and scorpions, amongst others.

Plant diet revolves around fruits and vegetables. They can also eat eggs, possibly when in captivity. Sometimes, carrion is the only available option and they’ll take advantage of it. 

With their sharp teeth and long tongue, these mammals find it easy to eat enough before sleep time comes.

Around human residences, they are either considered pest control or pests themselves. They can reduce insects around your environment, but also damage crops. 

Reproduction and Mating Process

Armadillos don’t have a universal breeding period. It depends on factors like the species and region. While some species breed year-round, others have specific seasons.

As such, it’s difficult to give a precise period. The reproduction and mating processes of these animals are interesting, to say the least.

The courtship of some species simply involves the male sniffing out a prospective female. Others, however, use a more aggressive method.

Males pursue a female, trying to see which would get her first. The winner starts mating even if the female hasn’t stopped running.

The male’s sexual organ is also one the biggest among mammals, and the females can hold off implanting the egg after copulation due to lack of food. 

These guys also give birth to a lot of babies, more than many other mammals. This depends on the species, though. Some give birth to only one or two, while others go as high as 15.

The gestation period is short, lasting between two to five months. Young ones are called pups, and they don’t come with a hard shell. The latter develops after some time.

They depend on their mother for two to four months after which they get weaned. By 1 year, they should be ready for full independence. 

Predators and Threats

The armadillo has its shell to protect itself, but that doesn’t make it impervious to predators. It gets hunted by bigger animals like jaguars, coyotes, bears, bobcats, and wolves.

Large birds like hawks also give a hard time. All these animals can easily overpower our shelled friend, even with its armor. 

Armadillos have different protective techniques, however. If the shell fails, it could use its claws to scare the predator away. They might also play dead, run away, or find the nearest waterbodies to swim off. 

Other threats can be traced to humans. Humans have targeted armadillos as a game for years, especially in South America during the Great Depression. They got the name “Hoover Hog” during the period.4

Besides hunting, human activities that cause habitat loss also affect this animal. Then we have poisoning and road accidents. 


Armadillos tend to be solitary but will come together when they need to mate. They can also congregate when they need to keep warm during cold weather.

Their low temperature puts them in a bad place when the weather changes, hence the need for warmth. Other than those two periods, they prefer living alone.

These animals love to dig. They use this digging to get food and to create a burrow where they can sleep in. Their burrows are considered excellent by animal standards, and when they leave other inhabitants like snakes take over. 

Their eyesights are poor, but in place of that, they have a strong sense of smell. The smell and digging are both tools they use to forage for food. 

Male vs Female 

The difference between both genders isn’t overt, but still noticeable with close observation. They may seem identical at first glance, but they aren’t the same. 

Males are bigger than females, but not by much. When observed from above, you may not notice any difference.

The shells of both genders are alike. However, you can tell them apart when you turn them on their backs. The sexual organs are enough. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Are armadillos good pets?

Some species can be kept in captivity and they will survive long enough. However, this doesn’t apply to all. The pink armadillo can’t be a pet as it may die if taken out of the wild. Also, in some places, it is illegal to own one.

Are armadillos harmful?

These animals aren’t aggressive. They’d run rather than attack, especially as they aren’t big predators. However, they can be carriers of some highly contagious diseases, including leprosy. Avoid direct contact with wild ones.

What is special about armadillos?

Armadillos come with very thick shells that have served as inspiration for many bulletproof vests. These shells are the most outstanding traits, capable of diverting bullets. These animals can also dig expertly.

Final Thoughts 

Always the special animal with armor, the armadillo is here to stay. While some species need protection, many others are of the least concern and increasing in population.

We might be seeing more in the United States as they expand. Like any other animal, they may many roles, including being the muse for vests that save lives.

References & Notes

Facts Sources:
  1. Armadillos: Biology, Ecology, and Images. Armadillo Online.
  2. Langley L. (2019). These animals inspire better body armor for humans. National Geographic.
  3. Dearden L. (2015). Bulletproof armadillo puts Texas man in hospital after shot bounces off hard shell. The Independent.
  4. Hoover hog. Wikipedia.