Back to Nature (Published on TBNWeekly.com - June 21, 2006)
Armadillo the little armored one
The Florida armadillo is a fairly recent addition spreading from Mexico, via Texas
and the Gulf of Mexico in the 1940s through the 1960s, but Florida had Armadillos
in prehistoric times. A slightly larger relative of our current armadillo, Dasypus
bellus, occurred in Florida from the middle of the Miocene epoch. The nine-banded
armadillo is filling a niche left vacant by an extinct relative.
|Photo by Rick Tremmel
|An armadillo forages in the
Tremmel back yard.
The armadillo is the only North American mammal armored with heavy, bony plates.
The Spanish conquistadors gave them the name of armadillo little armored
one, from the Spanish word armado meaning armored.
Our Florida armadillo has nine, narrow, jointed, armor bands that encircle its
midriff. These bands are more obvious than the continuing bands on the lower back.
The head is small. The underparts are soft. This is the danger zone of this animal
when attacked by predators such as: dogs, coyotes, bobcats, panthers. The ears of
the armadillo are also soft. The sparse hair, mostly on the belly and around the
chin is brown, tan and sometimes yellowish.
The armadillos burrows are approximately 6 feet long with a hollow at the
end lined with soft grass and leaves. The pair mates in late July or early August
but the embryo doesnt start to develop until early winter, November or
December. The egg divides into four identical quadruplets that are born the
following year in March or April.
The main diet of the armadillo is: insects, lizards and lizard eggs, small ground
birds and bird eggs, frogs, snakes and crayfish. They also love garbage.
They love to dig, which is one of the reasons they get into so much trouble with
their neighbors. The holes they leave are similar to raccoon holes, about 4 to 6
inches deep of fresh dirt dug at a slant. This digging is for insects and grubs. It
is estimated that each adult armadillo consumes 200 pounds of insects yearly. That
alone should win them some favorable kudos.
Armadillos are technically nocturnal preferring to forage at night after human
activity has subsided. But I have seen them in my back yard and at local parks such
as Saw Grass Park and Narrows Park, during the day. The most common observation of
the armadillo is viewing the poor thing lying dead on the side of the road. This is
also the most prevalent cause of death.
Many people still trap armadillos for food. During the Great Depression armadillo
was considered an important food source and was dubbed with humorous names like:
possum on the half shell, pocket
dinosaurs, Texas turkey and Hoover pork. It is
reported to taste very much like pork. The shells of the armadillo have some
commercial value as well, being used as bowls or made into interesting purses.
We all have different ways of observing the animal world. Some people view
wildlife as a food source, some as pure nuisance. Some honor wildlife as spiritual
relations, some simply enjoy observing the natural beauty of the four leggeds and
the winged creatures. All of us need to pause a moment from time to time. Take a
step out of time and appreciate those even the smallest of creatures
If the armadillo has become a pest in your garden, the Florida Extension office
has quite a bit of information on our Florida armadillo and can provide you with
some humane ways of controlling.
Bill Kern, Urban Wildlife Extension Specialist, has written a special paper that
you may obtain from the Extension Office (Vol. 32, No. 5) which includes plans on
how to build a proper trap for armadillos.
Karen can be reached at MyMuddyPawsStudio@gmail.com.