Armadillos are New World placental mammals with a leathery armor shell. The Dasypodidae are the only surviving family in the order Cingulata, part of the superorder Xenarthra, along with the anteaters and sloths. The word armadillo in Spanish means "little armored one". The Aztec called them azotochtli, Nahuatl for “turtle-rabbit”.
Armadillos are an amazing group of animals that originated in South America. Armadillos are mammals, just like you. Contrary to what you may have heard, the armadillo is neither a rodent nor a marsupial, and they are not related to the opossum any more than you are. There are twenty different species of armadillos.
Armadillos are protected by plates of bony armor covered with skin. Many armadillos can curl into a ball when threatened by predators. There are 20 different types of armadillos that range in size from 6 to 60 inches (15-152 cm) long.
Armadillo are primarily insectivores (insect-eaters). They dig into the earth using their large claws to find food. They use their long tongue to get ants, beetles, termites, worms, grubs, other small animals and eggs. Armadillos have peg-like teeth.
For years scientists had known that other than humans, armadillos are the only known natural hosts for M. leprae in the world. The animals get sick from M. leprae infections just like people do, and eventually die from kidney and liver damage. But unlike humans, they are more susceptible to catching the bug: In some parts of the South, more than 20% of armadillos have the infection.
Armadillos seem to exhibit a polygynous mating system, with most females paired with a single male and most males paired with more than one female. Den burrows have an enlarged nest chamber and are more complicated than a burrow dug for other purposes. The nest is a bulky mass of dried plant debris crammed into the nest chamber without any obvious structure
Armadillos are one of the very few mammals that harbor the bacteria that cause the sometimes disfiguring disease, which first shows up as an unusual lumpy skin lesion.
Researchers at the National Hansen's Disease Programs in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, led an international team of scientists who published their findings in Thursday's New England Journal of Medicine. They think it requires frequent handling of armadillos or eating their meat for leprosy to spread.
Armadillos have small ears and long, pointed snouts. They have powerful claws on their forefeet, which are used to dig burrows. Most species live in their burrows during the day and emerge at night to feed. Armadillos eat termites, ants, snakes, carrion, and plants.
There are 20 species of armadillos. They inhabit grasslands and forests from southern Argentina to the southern United States. The giant armadillo is about five feet (1.5 m) long, including a 20-inch (50-cm) tail. It can sit up on its haunches by using its tail as a support. The pink fairy armadillo, or pichiciego, is the smallest species.
Four young are born in a burrow in March. All four young, always of the same sex, are identical quadruplets and developed from the same egg. They even share a single placenta while in the womb. Armadillos are the only mammals in which multiple young form from a single egg with any regularity.
Many species of armadillo are endangered or threatened. Human encroachment, slash-and-burn farming, hunting, and deaths due to domestic dogs account for a large percentage of the problem. Of the twenty species of armadillo, only one — the nine-banded armadillo — appears to be increasing in number