La Plata Three-Banded Armadillo
Scientific Name: Tolypeutes matacus
Armadillos are heterothermic, meaning they can regulate their internal body temperature based on their surrounding environment. Typically keeping a body temperature of 90 degrees, an armadillo is able to lower its body temperature by several degrees if the ambient temperature falls below 61 degrees.
Armadillos are of the most unique and oldest of New World mammals, dating back 65-80 million years ago. Because of the tough carapace that covers part of their body, the Spaniards gave them their name which means “little armored thing.”
STATUS: The three-banded armadillo is listed as Near Threatened by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Armadillos have been captured by humans for many years for their meat and were a valuable source of food for southern sharecroppers during the Great Depression of the 1930s. Young armadillos are vulnerable to predation by coyotes, bobcats, mountain lions, raptors and domestic dogs because of their smaller size and softer carapace.
HABITAT: Three-banded armadillos live in dens and abandoned anteater burrows in the dry scrub lands, grasslands, or marshes near dry forests or savannahs in the Mato Grasso area of central Brazil and the Gran Chaco area of eastern Bolivia, Paraguay and Argentina. They are usually solitary animals, but will occasionally share dens in cooler weather.
DIET: Armadillos forage for beetle larva, ants and termites. Their strong claws and forelimbs enable them to dig open termite and ant mounds. They will also eat fallen fruits. Armadillos use their peg-like teeth that grow on the sides of their jaw to mash up their food.
PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS: A young armadillo is born after a gestation period of about four months, weighing about four ounces. It is born as a miniature adult, and by the third or fourth week the eyes and ears are fully opened. The young are weaned at about ten weeks. Armadillos may live up to 15 years in the wild.
The adult three-banded armadillo weighs about three and a half pounds and is approximately twelve inches in length. The back, tail, feet and head are covered in a black-brown armor-like carapace (a bony shell). The carapace develops from the skin and is made up of keratinous plates. The pelvic and shoulder shields are separated by three moveable bony bands of skin around the middle of the body; this gives them their great flexibility. The tail is about two to three inches in length, comprised of thick horny nodules that are almost immobile. The underside of the armadillo is covered in soft, hairy skin. They have muscular fore and hind limbs with strong, sharp claws used for digging. Their eyesight is not well-developed, yet their abilities to hear and smell are both well-developed.
A Wonderful Survival Adaptation
The three-banded armadillo is the only armadillo that can roll completely into a ball to protect itself from predators and thorny vegetation. The sides of the carapace extend beyond the skin, giving the armadillo a space to retreat its head, legs and tail when curling up. The armadillo can close itself so securely that only a few large predators can possibly harm them (e.g. jaguars, alligators, and humans).