"Armadillo" is a Spanish word that translates to "little armored one," a fitting description for the 20 or so species of mammals that have flexible carapaces -- hard bony exterior plates -- for protection. Native to the Americas, most armadillos use oversize claws to dig burrows in which to rest and hide. The omnivores feed primarily on insects, which they consume with the help of their sticky tongues.
The only armadillo whose range extends into the United States is the nine-banded or long-nosed armadillo (Dasypus novemcinctus), which actually has anywhere from seven to 11 armor bands. It occurs from the southeastern United States to Peru and Uruguay, and on the Caribbean islands of Grenada, Trinidad and Tobago. The nine-banded armadillo is one of seven species in the genus Dasypus, all but one of whose members have elongated snouts and barely any hair. The exception is the hairy long-nosed armadillo (Dasypus pilosus) of the southwestern Peruvian mountains.
At approximately 39 inches long and 132 pounds, the elusive giant armadillo (Priodontes maximus) is the largest armadillo. It has up to 100 teeth. Its range encompasses parts of Venezuela, the Guianas, Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina. The creature inhabits the Amazon rain forest, grasslands and woodlands. A burrow-digger despite its size, the giant armadillo eats termites and ants.
The three species called hairy armadillos have white to light brown hair that covers their legs and undersides and sticks out from spaces in their shell. The little hairy armadillo (Chaetophractus vellerosus), sometimes called the screaming hairy armadillo because of the sound it produces when it perceives danger, lives in semi-arid areas in western Bolivia, Paraguay and central Argentina. The Andean hairy armadillo (Chaetophractus nationi) is found in high-altitude grasslands in Bolivia and northern Chile. Large hairy armadillos (Chaetophractus villosus) inhabit the Gran Chaco areas of Bolivia, Paraguay and Argentina.
The only armadillos that can roll their bodies into tight balls are the two species of three-banded armadillos. Southern three-banded armadillos (Tolypeutes matacus) are found in grassy areas in the Gran Chaco regions of Brazil, Bolivia, Paraguay and Argentina. They feed mostly on beetle larvae but will also eat fruit. The Brazilian three-banded armadillo (Tolypeutes tricinctus) lives in northern and central Brazil. Neither species digs its own burrows; instead, they occupy abandoned anteater burrows. Both measure approximately 10.5 inches.
Species of the genus Cabassous are known as the naked tail-armadillos because they lack bony plates on their tails. There are four species: greater, Chacoan, northern and southern. Uruguay and parts of Paraguay, Brazil and northern Argentina are home to the greater naked-tail armadillo (Cabassous tatouay). Chacoan naked-tail armadillos (Cabassous chacoensis) live in the Gran Chaco region. The northern naked-tail armadillo (Cabassous centralis) occurs in Central America, from a small portion of southern Mexico to Colombia and Venezuela. The southern species (Cabassous unicinctus) is found east of the Andes Mountains, in Venezuela and Brazil.
The pink fairy armadillo (Chlamyphorus truncatus), the smallest species, is no longer than 5 inches. It is native to central Argentina, where it inhabits dry regions with cactus growth. A speedy burrower, the fairy armadillo has a predilection for ants and their larvae but will also consume worms, snails and plant matter. The greater fairy armadillo (Calyptophractus retusus), which belongs to its own genus, is larger and lives in the Gran Chaco region. Also in its own genus is the yellow or six-banded armadillo (Euphractus sexcinctus), whose range encompasses a large portion of eastern and central South America.
- San Diego Zoo Animal Bytes: Armadillo
- Defenders of Wildlife / Kids' Planet - Giant Armadillo
- University of Michigan Museum of Zoology: Priodontes maximus
- National Geographic: Armadillos
- Armadillo Online: Genus Chaetophractus
- National Wildlife Federation: Nine-Banded Armadillo
- Armadillo Online: Genus Dasypus
- Oregon Zoo: Southern Three-Banded Armadillo
- IUCN: Goal Scored for Armadillo Conservation
- Armadillo Online: Genus Cabassous
Since beginning her career as a professional journalist in 2007, Nathalie Alonso has covered a myriad of topics, including arts, culture and travel, for newspapers and magazines in New York City. She holds a B.A. in American Studies from Columbia University and lives in Queens with her two cats.