Range:

Southern United States and Mexico, Central America, and South America

Habitat:

Prairie, savanna, and wetlands

A mammal with a shell?

The armadillo is really strange looking. Although most armadillo species look like they are bald, they do have wiry hairs on the sides and the belly. Some people refer to the hairs as curb feelers, since armadillos can feel their way around an area at night as the hairs touch objects.

The one thing that tells everyone they are looking at an armadillo is the roly-poly shell with "armored" bands. The number of bands depends on the species. These hardened, overlapping sections give most armadillos a pleated look. Although the bands are tough like fingernails, the shell is flexible, with softer skin that expands and contracts between the bands. Armadillos also have long claws for digging and foraging for food. Their peg-shaped teeth crunch on insects, an armadillo's favorite food.

From one extreme to the other

In the looks department, the nine-banded armadillo appears naked, while the pink fairy armadillo is mostly furry and has little shell. In fact, it looks like a mole wearing a fancy, armored headdress and cape! In the size department, armadillos range in length from the pink fairy armadillo at 3 inches (8 centimeters) to the giant armadillo, which can be up to 5 feet (1.5 meters) long from head to tail and weigh up to 132 pounds (60 kilograms)!

Armadillo is Spanish for little armored thing.
Part of the armadillo's family name Dasypodidae, “dasypus,” is Greek for rabbit.
The screaming hairy armadillo gets its name from the sounds it makes when it feels threatened.
The 9-banded armadillo has 4 identical pups in every litter, either all male or all female, and the 7-banded armadillo produces between 8 and 15 identical offspring.
Armadillos have peg-shaped teeth that don't have a protective coating of enamel.
The screaming hairy armadillo has been seen killing small snakes by throwing itself on top of the snake and cutting it with the edge of its shell.
The glyptodon was a prehistoric armadillo as big as a Volkswagen Beetle!
The Brazilian three-banded armadillo was one of the mascots for soccer’s 2014 World Cup, held in Brazil, because it can roll up tight to look like a soccer ball.
Nine-banded armadillos and humans (just five percent of us) share a strain of bacterium that can cause leprosy.
The pattern on the head plate of an armadillo is unique to each individual.

Although we have had armadillos on and off since our earliest days, they were rarely exhibited; as nocturnal creatures, our guests seldom saw them! Armadillos don’t generally bond well with people, and they can be jump, popping 6 feet (1.8 meters) in the air with their strong legs if they want to get away from someone. It takes an especially calm armadillo to make a good animal ambassador.

These days, the San Diego Zoo and San Diego Zoo Safari Park have three-banded armadillos that serve as excellent animal ambassadors, meeting guests up close and making television appearances.

Humans affect the armadillo in many ways. Some people consider them pests and call exterminators to rid them from their gardens. Armadillos are often run over by cars as the animals cross roads looking for food and new habitat. Many people eat them and use their shells for novelties like purses.

Another growing threat to all armadillos is habitat destruction: all species except the nine-banded armadillo Dasypus novemcinctus are decreasing in population. Five armadillo species are classified as vulnerable.

These animals are truly industrious excavators that are great at digging, serve as excellent insect control, and both confuse and delight most humans who come across them.