The armadillo is one of the most ancient representatives of the animal world. Zoologists consider it the most mysterious and incredible animal. Because of their large, thick shells, armadillos have long been considered relatives of turtles. However, after a series of genetic studies, they were separated into a separate species and order, which is similar to anteaters and sloths. In their historical homeland, in Latin America, animals are called “armadillo”, which means pocket dinosaurs.
View origin and description
Animals belong to chordate mammals. They are assigned to the armadillo squad. Scientists say that these animals appeared on earth during the existence of dinosaurs. This is approximately 50-55 million years ago. Armadillos have not changed much since those times, except for a significant decrease in size.
The ancient ancestors of this species reached a length of more than three meters. These representatives of flora and fauna managed to survive and preserve their original appearance due to the presence of a shell of dense bone plates, which reliably protected it from enemies and natural disasters.
The Aztecs, the ancient inhabitants of the American continents, called armadillos “hares-tortoises”. This is due to the association with wild hares, which had the same long ears as armadillos. Another similarity between armadillos and hares is the ability to live in dug holes.
Almost all the remains of the ancient ancestors of these animals were found in South America. This gives reason to believe that this territory was the homeland and habitat of the main number of species of these animals. Over time, when both American continents were connected by a land isthmus, they migrated to North America. This is evidenced by fossil remains of a slightly later period. The remains of glyptodonts, the most ancient ancestors of armadillos, were discovered over a large area, up to Nebraska.
In the middle of the 19th century, most of the armadillos concentrated in the south of America and lives there to this day. At the beginning of the 20th century, several individuals escaped from private owners and in the natural environment established populations in the northern and western regions of America.
Appearance and features
The peculiarity of these unique animals lies in the shell. It consists of several sections that are connected to each other: head, shoulder and pelvic. The connection is provided by an elastic fabric. Thanks to this, all departments have sufficient mobility. Also on the body there are several annular stripes covering the back and sides. In connection with the presence of such stripes, one of the species is called nine belt. Outside, the shell is covered with strips, or squares of the epidermis.
The limbs of the beast are also protected by armor. The tail section is covered with plates of bone tissue. The abdomen and the inner surface of the limbs are rather soft and sensitive skin, covered with hard hair. The hairline can even cover the skin plates located on the surface of the shell.
Animals can have a very diverse color. From dark brown to light pink. The hairline can be dark, grayish, or completely white. The armadillo, despite its small size, has a squat, elongated and very heavy body. The length of the body of one adult varies from 20 to 100 cm. The body weight is 50-95 kilograms.
The length of the tail part of the body is 7-45 centimeters. The muzzle of armadillos is not too large relative to the body. It can be round, elongated, or triangular in shape. The eyes are small, covered with rough, thick skin folds of the eyelids.
The limbs of animals are short, but very strong. They are designed for digging large holes. The front paws can be either three-toed or five-toed. The fingers have long, sharp and curved claws. The hind legs of the animal are five-fingered. Used exclusively for moving through underground burrows.
Interesting fact. Armadillos are the only mammals that do not have a standard number of teeth. In different individuals, it can be from 27 to 90. Their number depends on gender, age, and species.
Teeth grow throughout life. In the oral cavity there is a long tongue covered with a viscous substance, which animals use to capture food. Armadillos have excellent hearing and sense of smell. The eyesight of these animals is poorly developed. They do not see color, they only distinguish silhouettes. Animals do not tolerate low temperatures, and their own body temperature depends on the ambient temperature, and can range from 37 to 31 degrees.
Where does the armadillo live?
Geographical regions of the animal's habitat:
- Central America;
- South America;
- Eastern Mexico;
- South Carolina;
- Trinidad Island;
- Tobago Island;
- Margarita Island;
- Grenada Island;
Armadillos choose a subtropical, hot, dry climate as their habitat. They can live in the territory of rare forests, grassy plains, valleys of water sources, as well as areas with low vegetation. They can also inhabit shrouds, rainforests, deserts.
Different types of these representatives of the animal world choose their region and habitat conditions. For example, the furry armadillo is an inhabitant of the highlands. Can climb to a height of 2000-3500 meters above sea level.
Armadillos are not embarrassed by the close proximity of a person. Ball armadillos are distinguished by a complaisant manual character. Can get used to the constant neighborhood with a person. If he also feeds him and does not show aggression, then he is able to play with him. Animals have the ability to quickly settle in and get used to a new environment when they change their place of residence.
What does an armadillo eat
When living in natural conditions, it feeds on food of both animal and vegetable origin. The main source of food that armadillos most enjoy is ants and termites. Most species of armadillos are omnivores. The nine-banded armadillo is considered insectivorous.
What is included in the diet:
They may feed on small invertebrates such as lizards. They also do not disdain carrion, food waste, vegetables, fruits. They eat bird eggs. As plant food, it can consume succulent leaves, as well as the roots of various plant species. Often there are cases of attacks on snakes. They attack them by slicing through the snake's body with the sharp tips of the scales.
Interesting fact. One adult is capable of eating up to 35,000 ants at a time.
To search for insects, animals use powerful paws with huge claws, with which they dig the ground and dig them out. When they want to eat, they move slowly with their muzzle down and turn over dry vegetation with their claws. Powerful, sharp claws allow you to disassemble dry trees, stumps and collect insects hiding there with a sticky tongue.
Interesting fact. Large, strong claws allow you to rake even asphalt.
Often, armadillos make their burrows near large anthills so that their favorite delicacy is always nearby. The nine-banded armadillo is one of those species that can even eat fire ants in large quantities. Animals are not afraid of their painful bites. They dig up anthills, eating ants and their larvae in huge quantities. In winter, with the onset of cold weather, when it is almost impossible to find insects, they switch to a plant-based diet.
Character and Lifestyle Features
Animals tend to lead an active nocturnal lifestyle. Juveniles may also be active during daylight hours. With the onset of cold weather and a sharp reduction in the food supply, they can also leave their shelters during the day in search of food.
In most cases, armadillos are solitary animals. In rare exceptions, they exist in pairs or as part of a small group. Most of the time they spend in burrows located underground, they come out after dark in search of food.
Each animal occupies a certain territory. Armadillos make several burrows within their range. Their number can be from 2 to 11-14. The length of each underground hole is one to three meters. In each hole, the animal spends from several days to a month in turn. Burrows are usually shallow, located horizontally on the surface of the earth. Each of them has one or two entrances. Very often, due to poor eyesight after hunting, animals cannot find the entrance to their house and make a new one. In the process of digging holes, animals protect their heads from sand. Hind limbs are not involved in burrowing.
Each animal leaves marks with a specific smell within its habitat. The secret is secreted by special glands, which are concentrated in various parts of the body. Armadillos are excellent swimmers. A large body weight and a heavy shell do not interfere during swimming, as animals inhale a large amount of air, which prevents them from sinking to the bottom.
Animals seem clumsy, clumsy and very slow. If they feel danger, they are able to instantly burrow into the ground. If the animal is frightened by something, it jumps very high up. If, when danger approaches, the armadillo does not have time to burrow into the ground, it clings to it, hiding its head, limbs and tail under the shell. This method of self-defense makes them inaccessible to attacks by predators. Also, if necessary, escape from the chase can develop a fairly high speed.
Social structure and reproduction
The marriage period is seasonal nature, most often occurs in the summer. Males take care of females for quite a long time. After mating, pregnancy occurs, which lasts 60-70 days.
Interesting fact. After the formation of the embryo in females, its development is delayed. The duration of such a delay ranges from several months to one and a half to two years.
Such a process is necessary in order for the offspring to appear during the most favorable climatic conditions, which will increase the chances of survival of the cubs.
Depending on the species, one sexually mature female can give birth to from one to four to five cubs. The birth of offspring occurs no more than once a year. At the same time, a third of sexually mature females do not participate in reproduction and do not give offspring. Babies are born quite small. Each of them sees at birth and has a soft, non-keratinized shell. It is completely ossified by about six to seven months.
Interesting fact. Certain animal species, including nine-banded armadillos, are capable of producing identical twins. Regardless of the number of cubs born into the world, they will all be either females or males and develop from one egg.
A few hours after birth, they begin to walk. For one to one and a half months, the cubs feed on mother's milk. After a month, they gradually leave the burrow and join the adult food. The period of puberty for both males and females occurs upon reaching one and a half to two years.
In some cases, when the female does not have milk, and there is nothing to feed the cubs in a state of panic, she can eat her own. The average life expectancy in natural conditions is 7-13 years, in captivity it increases to 20 years.
Natural enemies of armadillos
Despite the fact that nature has awarded armadillos with reliable protection, they can become prey for larger and stronger predators. These include representatives of predators of the feline and canine families. Also, alligators and crocodiles can hunt armadillos.
Armadillos are not afraid of being close to humans. Therefore, they are often the object of hunting for domestic cats and dogs. Humans are also the cause of the extermination of animals. He is killed in order to obtain meat and other parts of the body, from which souvenirs and jewelry are made.
The cause of human extermination is harm to livestock. Pastures pitted with burrows of armadillos are the cause of fractures of the limbs of livestock. This forces farmers to exterminate the animals. A large number of animals die under the wheels of vehicles on the highway.
Population and species status
Today, four of the six existing armadillo species are listed in the International Red Book. Zoologists say that one of the species, the three-banded armadillo, may have already been completely exterminated. This is due to the low birth rate. A third of sexually mature females do not participate in reproduction. Some types of armadillos are capable of reproducing up to ten cubs. However, only a fraction of them survive.
For quite a long period of time, the Americans destroyed armadillos because of the tender, tasty meat. Today, in North America, their meat is still considered a great delicacy. In the 20-30s of the 20th century, they called them lambs and made meat stocks, destroying the animals. A self-defense tool in the form of a shell makes them easy prey for humans, since they do not run away, but rather simply curl up. One of the reasons for the extinction of the species is considered to be the destruction of the natural habitat, as well as deforestation.
In order to preserve the species and increase their numbers, four of the six existing species of animals are listed in international Red Book with the assignment of the status of “endangered species”. In the habitats of armadillos, their destruction is prohibited, and deforestation is also limited.
The armadillo is an amazing animal that got its name in honor of the Spanish military, who were dressed in steel armor. They have the unique ability to walk underwater and hold their breath for more than seven minutes. Until now, the lifestyle and behavior of animals have not been thoroughly studied by zoologists.