What is an Armadillo?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

An armadillo is a small mammal in the family Dasypodidae. These mammals are somewhat unique because unlike most other mammals, they are largely hairless. Instead of hair, armadillos have a series of pinkish to gray bony plates which cover their bodies, connected with strips of flexible tissue which allow the animals to bend. Armadillos look sort of like knights in their armor, which explains the name “armadillo,” which means “little armored one” in Spanish.

Woman holding a book
Woman holding a book

Armadillos are native to the Americas, with most species being found in South America, including the Giant Armadillo, which can grow up to three feet (1.2 meters) long. North Americans usually see the nine-banded armadillo, which happens to be the state small mammal of Texas. The nine-banded armadillo is probably the most well known, thanks to its widespread distribution and unfortunate propensity for being run over; the alternate name for this armadillo species is the “hillbilly speed bump.”

These animals are classified as edentate mammals, distinguished by the lack of enamel on their teeth. Like their edentate cousins the anteaters and sloths, armadillos have stumpy, peg-like teeth which lack roots, along with unusual vertebral joints and very slow metabolisms. Several armadillo species are considered to be threatened, due to habitat pressures, and numerous armadillo species are already extinct. These animals often have difficulty thriving in regions with a high human population because they cannot adjust to cars and other human influences, and because they are vulnerable to pollution and habitat destruction.

Armadillos are great diggers, burrowing for both food and shelter. They usually live in moist environments, and they eat a wide variety of foods. The armadillo is generally omnivorous, with a long snout and highly flexible tongue which allow it to extract food from nooks and crannies of logs. Armadillos are also solitary, preferring to live and hunt alone, and they are very susceptible to cold because they have only a small amount of body fat.

Like many burrowing animals, the armadillo has poor vision, although the animals are not totally blind. They are also quite fast, which can be useful when escaping predators; when an armadillo cannot outrun a predator, it can curl up to use its armored plates for protection. Armadillos are also very dense, due to the armored plates and low body fat, so they are capable of inflating their stomachs to act as air bladders so that they can swim, which is a rather neat trick.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


I live in Alabama and when I was younger, I never saw an armadillo except when we went on vacations out west. Now, I see them in Alabama all the time!


Here are a couple more armadillo facts:

Armadillos have 4 babies at one time and they will all 4 be of the same sex. They will be perfect quadruplets. They also have lower body temperatures compared to other mammals. They are often used as a research animal for certain diseases, such as leprosy.


Armadillo fun facts:

For those of you considering having armadillo on your dinner menu, a pound of armadillo meat contains 780 calories.

When something frightens an armadillo, it jumps straight up in the air.

Armadillos get about 18.5 hours of sleep every day.

Armadillos can also walk underwater.

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