Wondrous Wildlife
By Vern and Lori Gieger
A Truly Unique Critter

     What has poor eyesight, poor hearing, no teeth, leathery skin, and almost no hair? While you may be thinking I’m describing your neighbor, I’m not. Although it seems some of us have more in common with this critter than we would like to admit! However, there is a lot to know about this very interesting little mammal with tiny eyes, a pig nose, ears like a donkey and a football shaped body.
     Armadillos are an amazing group of animals that originated in South America.
     The English name “armadillo” is a Spanish word that means “little armored thing.” There are 20 different species of armadillos, found from the Americas to Argentina. Like people, armadillos vary in size, shape and color. The giant armadillo in South America has an impressive three-foot body and weighs as much as 130 pounds. But, it’s the fairy Armadillo that could cause one to swear off the booze! About six inches long and bright pink in color, with plumes of white hair about the face and undersides. The nine-banded armadillo, which most of us are familiar with, is found in the southern U.S., as well as here in Jalisco.
     Primarily insectivores, they consume large numbers of grubs, worms and ants, including the infamous fire ant. With a keen sense of smell, armadillos can detect insects six inches under the soil. Armadillos are built to dig! Having sharp claws and short, strong legs, they are well-suited to rapid digging, dinner is easily obtained; with a long tongue and sticky saliva, insects don’t stand a chance. It is this digging and rooting that brings them into conflict with humans; however, their diet includes many harmful insects and agricultural pests.
     Armadillos normally have one litter a year, born in the spring. All four young, always of the same sex, are identical quadruplets, developed from the same egg.
Babies are born full miniatures of the adult, with eyes open and soon walking. Their body shell, which is soft and pink at birth, hardens and darkens within a few days. They nurse from their mother up to four months.
     Armadillos live in burrows and tend to have more than one, some being active and others forgotten. Once a burrow is excavated, an armadillo gathers leaves (holding them against its belly with their front feet) and hops backwards like a bunny into its burrow to construct a nest. Biologists have researched armadillo burrows and found some up to 15 feet in length, complete with curves and many rooms.
     Contrary to popular belief, armadillos like water! Armadillos are known to play in shallow water, kicking it onto their belly and scooting around in it like a pig. Although they are excellent swimmers and can swim dog paddle style across a creek, they may choose to float across by inhaling air into their lungs, stomach and intestines to make them buoyant. Or if they wish to take the scenic route, they can hold their breath up to ten minutes and walk across the bottom.
     Many species of armadillo are endangered or threatened. Human encroachment, slash and burn farming, hunting, and deaths due to domestic dogs account for a large percentage of the problem. Of the 20 species of armadillo, only one, the nine-banded armadillo, appears to have stable numbers.