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


Prairie, savanna, and wetlands

A mammal with a shell?

The armadillo is really strange looking. Although most armadillo species look like they have no hair, 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 what are called "armored" bands. The number of bands depends on the species. The pleated look of most armadillos is made of these hardened, overlapping sections. 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 through the bodies of insects, an armadillo's favorite food.


There are 20 armadillos species; all are found in the Americas, and most live in Central or South America. Only one armadillo species is found in the United States, the nine-banded armadillo. Because the body size and food source of the armadillo varies, so do the home range and habitat of each species. In fact, everything varies when you're talking about armadillos!

Typically, armadillos like wetlands with thick shade and sandy soil that is easy to dig in. But they are also found in thorn scrub, grasslands, and wooded areas. Armadillos burrow in grass, hollow logs, and sometimes underground.

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 nine-banded armadillo has four identical pups in every litter.
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 San Diego Zoo Safari Park has a three-banded armadillo named Geronimo who serves as an animal ambassador, 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. The Bolivian hairy armadillo Chaetophractus nationi, hairy long-nosed armadillo Dasypus pilosus, giant armadillo Priodontes maximus, and Brazilian three-banded armadillo Tolypeutes tricinctus are 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.

You can help us bring species back from the brink by supporting the San Diego Zoo Global Wildlife Conservancy. Together we can save and protect wildlife around the globe.