Species Profile: Nine-Banded Armadillo
Scientific Name: Dasypus novemcinctus
Common Name(s): nine-banded armadillo, long nosed armadillo, Hoover hog, hillbilly speed bump
Nine-banded armadillos are medium sized mammals with a hard armor covering their body, head, and tail. Their armor does not cover their stomach or inside of their legs, instead, they have tough skin and course hair. Armadillos are tan-gray in color and often look blotchy. Nine armored bands surround the middle of their back and tails appear segmented. They have a long, skinny head and pointed nose. Claws on their front middle toes are longer for digging. Scent glands are found on the eyelids, nose, and feet. Armadillos weigh 5.5-14 lbs., are 25-42“ long, and stand 6-10” tall. It is possibly the most easily identified mammal in North America.
The nine-banded armadillo is native to South America. Over time it migrated north to Mexico. Prior to 1850, there were very few to no armadillos north of the Rio Grande. After the colonization of Texas, some factors limiting natural armadillo migration were alleviated: lack of river crossings and hunting by native peoples. Since 1850, the nine-banded armadillo has rapidly expanded its range to include nearly all the southeastern United States, and has been reported as far north as southern Nebraska. They are unique in that they are a natural invasive species, as opposed to being artificially transported by people. It is thought that they are approaching the northern extent of their potential range as they cannot tolerate long periods of extreme cold.
Armadillos are most known for digging. They are considered a nuisance to homeowners and farmers because they can destroy lawns and fields when digging for burrows and searching for food. Other species like skunks, rats, and snakes benefit from abandoned burrows. Armadillos will not survive in areas where the soil is too hard to dig so soft soil is essential for burrows and finding food. An armadillo may maintain up to 12 burrows up to 25 ft. long throughout its territory.
Armadillos are nocturnal and normally solitary. They mark their territory with urine, feces, and excretions from scent glands. Males can become aggressive during breeding to keep other males out of their home range in order to increase their chances of mating with a female. Kicking and chasing is typical territorial behavior. Armadillos are very slow, but when in danger can run away quickly in short bursts. Their eyesight is poor, so they rely on their keen sense of smell.
Nine-banded armadillos are insectivores, consuming grubs, beetles, ants, and termites. They use their sense of smell to detect insects through up to 8” of soil. Their sticky tongues help remove insects from soil. Occasionally they will eat bird eggs or berries.
Reproduction is very unusual in this species. Mating occurs from July-August with one egg being fertilized. Implantation is delayed for 3-4 months while the egg divides twice creating 4 identical quadruplets. The young are born in March each weighing about 3 oz. Baby armadillos nurse for 3 months in burrows before they emerge to forage on their own. Young will leave their mothers between six months and one year of age and become sexually mature soon afterwards. Armadillos can reproduce rapidly, perpetuating their status as a nuisance. Natural predators include coyotes, black bears, cougars, bobcats, and large birds; however, cars are responsible for more deaths than predators in many areas.
Here in Bella Vista, nine-banded armadillos are normally seen at dusk or dead on roadways. Cars are one of the biggest threats to armadillos. Many are killed even when drivers attempt to straddle them because of their propensity to jump when startled. They often dig in yards and will most likely run away if threatened. Armadillo activity in lawns is often a sign of high numbers of grubs which could cause damage themselves if left untreated. Natural treatments for grub control are available. It is often believed that all armadillos can roll into a ball, however, the nine-banded armadillo cannot.
The armadillo has been identified as a carrier of leprosy. This is true, but transmission to humans can only occur by direct contact and is rare. They should only be handled with a gloved hand and hands should be thoroughly washed afterwards. The meat is said to be very good tasting like pork. During the Great Depression, people were encouraged to eat them, hence the term “Hoover hog”. Bon Appetit!