Dasypodidae: Armadillo Family

Armadillos are digging animals. They have short, powerful limbs with strong, curved claws. They can dig burrows rapidly and some species do this as a means of escaping predators. When they are not active, armadillos rest underground in their burrows. Their skin is dramatically modified to form extremely tough, articulated plates — made of bone covered by horn. This provides the animal with excellent protection. Two armadillo species can curl themselves up into a ball so that their limbs and vulnerable underparts are protected by the armor.

Long-nosed Armadillo

These armadillos are found in a wide range of habitats, but always require plenty of cover. In the warmer parts of their range they feed at night. In colder areas they may be active during the day, especially in winter. These armadillos build large nests at the ends of their long burrows. The nests are filled with dried grasses. In areas with plenty of plant cover, long-nosed armadillos may also build their nests above ground.

Long-nosed armadillos search for their animal prey by poking their long noses into crevices and under logs. They also eat fallen fruit and roots. When threatened, the animals waddle to their burrows as fast as possible. If cornered, they will curl up.

Long-nosed armadillos forage alone. The breeding season is in late summer. Litters of identical, same-sex quadruplets are born in the spring.

Distribution: Southern US to northern Argentina.

Habitat: Shaded areas.

Food: Arthropods, reptiles, amphibians, fruit and roots.

Size: 24 - 57 cm (9.5 - 22.5 in); 1 - 10 kg (2.2 - 22 lb).

Maturity: 1 year.

Breeding: 4 young born in spring.

Life span: 15 years.

Status: Common.



Size: 26 - 34 cm (10 - 13.5 in); 1 - 2 kg (2.2 - 4.5 lb).

The pichi is a small armadillo of southern Argentina and in the alpine meadows of the Chilean Andes. Its armoured head, body and tail have long hairs growing out from behind each plate. When threatened, a pichi withdraws its legs under its body so that the serrated edges of its armour dig into the ground. It uses this technique to anchor itself in its burrow. Pichis probably hibernate in colder parts of their range. Between one and three young may be born at any time of the year. This species eats carrion, small insects and worms.


Six-Banded Armadillo

They live in the savannahs of South America. They are active by day. They prefer arid areas, where it is easier to dig burrows in the dry soil, although some are found in wetter, often muddy areas. These armadillos eat all types of food. They dig for tubers and roots, and forage for the fruits of succulent plants and palm nuts. Although plant foods make up the majority of their diet, the armadillos will also eat insects and carrion. They even kill small vertebrates, including mice or lizards. Without any proper biting or chewing teeth, eating flesh is difficult for the armadillos. They solve this problem by standing on the dead body and ripping off the meat with their jaws.

This species is also called the yellow armadillo because of the pale tone of its armour. It has between six and eight moveable bands on its back.

Six-banded armadillos mark their burrow and other key features in their territory with a smelly liquid produced by a scent gland under the base of the tail.

Distribution: S. America, Brazil to northern Argentina.

Habitat: Dry savannahs.

Food: Fruits, tubers, palm nuts and insects.

Size: 40 cm (15.5 in); 5 kg (11 lb).

Maturity: 1 year.

Breeding: 1 - 3 young born throughout the year.

Life span: 8 - 12 years.

Status: Common.


Pink Fairy Armadillo

Size: 8 - 10 cm (3 - 4 in); 80 - 100 g (2.75 - 3.5 oz).

The smallest of all the armadillo species, this animal lives on sandy plains in Argentina, where it is known as the pichiciego. Burrows are usually dug close to ant nests and termite mounds, which are main sources of food. It also eats snails, worms and roots. This solitary, nocturnal species remains underground during the daytime. If it rains, the armadillo evacuates its burrow to avoid drowning.


Southern Three-Banded Armadillo

An inhabitant of South American grasslands, this species ranges from central Argentina northward into Paraguay and southern Brazil, and to Bolivia in the west. Southern three-banded armadillos are sometimes found in marshes or other boggy areas. As a general rule, these habitats are seldom far from drier habitats such as savannahs or forests. The armadillos make dens inside old ant nests.

This species can roll up into an armoured ball for protection against attack. Contrary to popular belief, this is an unusual behaviour - no other armadillos can roll themselves up so completely.

This species eats mainly ants and termites. It uses its powerful forelegs and strong claws to excavate ant nests and termite mounds or lever off tree bark. Then it licks up insects.

Distribution: South America.

Habitat: Grasslands and marshes.

Food: Ants and termites.

Size: 30 cm (12 in); 1.3 - 1.7 kg (2.8 - 3.7 lb).

Maturity: 9 - 12 months.

Breeding: Single young.

Life span: 8 - 12 years.

Status: Common.


Chacoan Fairy Armadillo

Size: 14 - 17.5 cm (5.5 - 7 in); 1 kg (2.2 lb).

This species shares many of the same characteristics. It lives in the Gran Chaco scrub region of central South America. Chacoan fairy armadillos are expert burrowers and are seldom spotted above ground. Once underground, the animal’s rear is protected by a circular plate of armour, which presents an effective shield to any predator that tries to dig out the armadillo. This species is omnivorous.


Brazilian Three-Banded Armadillo

The three-banded is particularly well-protected, as it can conceal its vulnerable underparts. They have a long tongue, which allows them to probe into a termite colony and collect a number of these insects at once.

Distribution: Occurs in S. America. Found in the provinces of Pernambuco, western Bahia, Piaui and Maranhao.

Weight: 1 - 1.6 kg (2.2 - 3.5 lb); males are heavier.

Length: 28 - 35 cm (11 - 14 in).

Maturity: 8 - 13 months.

Gestation Period: 120 days; births occur in November to January.

Breeding: 1; weaning occurs at around 72 days.

Food: Largely insectivorous, feeding on ants and termites during the dry season and beetle larvae at other times; also eats carrion, vegetation and fruit.

Lifespan: 12 - 15 years.


Not all Brazilian three-handed armadillos have three bands - they can vary from two to four.


In adult armadillos, bony deposits build up under the skin.

Hind feet

The toes on the hind feet are kept flat to the ground when the armadillo is walking.


These armadillos tend to walk on the tips of their claws, rather than on their forefeet.


Young armadillos, which are born fully developed, roll up instinctively for protection, although their skin is not as tough as that of adults.

Stripping off bark to reach insects is not difficult with the armadillo's sharp claws.


Large Hairy Armadillo

This species is found in northern Paraguay and southern Bolivia. It also ranges south into central Argentina. This part of South America is called the Gran Chaco - a dry, sandy region of unique but inhospitable scrubland. Although the area gets enough rain for grasslands and savannahs to grow, much of the soil’s water is lost by evaporation due to the high winds and baking sun. Large hairy armadillos escape from the heat by burrowing into the ground, since it is considerably cooler just below the surface. The loose sand makes it easy for armadillos to dig deep holes in a short time, so this is also the main method of avoiding attack by predators. Once in the hole, an armadillo relies on its armoured back to protect it from further danger.

The armour is made of plates of bone covered in a layer of horny skin. The plates are joined together by flexible skin, so they form a tough but supple covering. This species has long, thick hairs.

They forage at night for insects, other invertebrates and the occasional small mammal or lizard. They also eat plant food and carrion. They to dig underneath large carcasses to feast on the maggots and grubs growing inside the rotting flesh.

Distribution: C. South America, from northern Paraguay to central Argentina.

Habitat: Semi-desert.

Food: Insects, invertebrates and small vertebrates. Plant matter makes up about half of its diet during winter, much less at other times of year.

Size: 22 - 40 cm (8.5 - 15.5 in); 2 kg (4.5 lb).

Maturity: 9 months. Breeding: Litter of 2 young born once or twice per year.

Life span: 30 years.

Status: Common.


Andean Hairy Armadillo

Size: 22 - 40 cm (8.5 - 15.5 in); 0.75 - 1 kg (1 - 2.25 lb).

This armadillo is found in Bolivia and Chile, on the grasslands of Andean slopes up to 3,500 m (11,500 ft). Thick hairs stick out between its scales, and the legs and underside are also hairy. In summer, this armadillo is nocturnal in habit, sheltering from the daytime heat in the cool of its burrow. However, during winter it reverses its behaviour, foraging by day and keeping warm in its burrow at night.


Northern Naked-tailed Armadillo

This species has a large range that extends from northern Argentina through Central America, reaching as far north as southern Mexico. It is most commonly found in grasslands, wherever there is enough thick undergrowth to hide from predators. The armadillo digs its own burrow, often in the side of an embankment.

The protective armour so characteristic of these animals is not found on the tail of this armadillo - a feature it shares with three other species. It is also known as the eleven-banded armadillo.

These armadillos are solitary creatures, like most armadillos. They do sometimes gather in small groups in areas with a good supply of food. However, in these situations they are tolerating the presence of others rather than grouping together for a reason. They are never leave their burrows before sunset.

This species has a diet made up almost exclusively of insects, which it apparently locates by scent. The armadillos dig up beetle grubs and excavate termite and ant nests, and then use their long tongue to extract the small insects. The sickle-like claw on each front foot is used to cut through roots to reach the insect prey. Sometimes the armadillos completely bury themselves with soil.

Distribution: South America; Central America, from Panama to southern Mexico.

Habitat: Grasslands and woodlands.

Food: Insects, mainly ants and termites; rarely bird eggs, earthworms and amphibians.

Size: 30 - 50 cm (12 - 20 in); 2 - 3 kg (4.5 - 6.5 lb).

Maturity: Unknown, probably about 1 year.

Breeding: Single babies.

Life span: 8 - 12 years.

Status: Common.