Armadillos are not native, but they’ve carved out a niche
Coastal Wildife & Native Plants
By John Marshall
The Spanish Conquistadors called them “little armored ones”, or “armadillos”. Of the 20 species of armadillos in the Western Hemisphere, only one is found in the United States is the nine banded armadillo (Dasypus novemcinctus). First documented in Texas in1846, they have spread north to Nebraska and east across the Mississippi River to the Carolinas. Many of the armadillos in the southeast are descended from animals introduced to south Florida in the 1920s.
Nine banded armadillos get their name from the nine folds, or bands, in their skin that allows it to be flexible. Their armored skin is composed of bony plates, called scutes, covered with horn.
Their underside is not armored, being covered with thick, coarse hair.
The armored skin protects them from all but the largest predators. They cannot, however, roll into a ball for protection, although some other armadillo species can. When threatened, they run for thick vegetation or one of their burrows. Another defense is to jump straight up into the air, apparently to startle a would-be attacker long enough to make a get away. This however, does not work well against on-coming cars and trucks, with hapless armadillos jumping right into the bumper or underside of a vehicle.
Nine banded armadillos are digging machines. They have strong claws and legs (especially the front ones) for digging the burrows in which they live and for finding food, like insects and worms. One of the limiting factors to their distribution is soil they cannot easily dig in, such as those with lots rocks.
The armadillo’s diet consists of soft bodied animals like grubs, worms, centipedes and the eggs of lizards and turtles. They especially seem to like ants, eating them by the thousands. Since they feed in soft-bodied animals, armadillos don’t have to chew a lot. Their teeth (always 32) are small, peg-like with no enamel (the hard, outer covering). They depend mostly on their long sticky tongue for capturing prey.
Within their territories, nine banded armadillos dig numerous burrows with multiple entrances in case an escape is needed. Burrows may be as long as 20 feet. Female armadillos often construct nests of vegetation in their burrows where they give birth.
Nine banded armaillos have a lot of peculiar traits. One, is that they are the only other species of animal besides humans that can contract leprosy. For this reason, they have been used in medical research.
Another trait is that after a female armadillo mates, it can delay implanting the fertilized egg for up to two years. This way it can put off having babies if environmental conditions are bad, like droughts or food shortage. Once the the fertilized egg implants, it divides into 4 identical embryos. After about 8 months, the female will give birth to quadruplets of the same sex. They are the only species of mammal known to do this.
Armadillos are not native to our area, but it looks like these little four-legged backhoes have carved out a niche for themselves and have “dug in” as a permanent residents of the Gulf Coast (and beyond).