What are armadillos?

Armadillos are mammals with their back, head, legs, and tail covered in bony plates.

They got the name from their unique look, which translated from Spanish means ‘little armored one. Armadillos are the only animals in the world with their bodies covered in shells to protect them against enemies and dangers.

Armadillos also have sticky tongues. This is so that they can extract insects and termites from small tunnels that are too hard to reach with their claws. They vary in color – they can be brown, salmon, black, red, grey, or even yellowish.

Length is another armadillo feature that can largely vary. Some species of armadillo can be as small as 6 inches, and some can grow as long as 5 feet. That’s the average height of a 12-year-old boy!

They are related to sloths and anteaters and live in the tropical parts of South and North America. There are 20 species of armadillos, and most of them spend their lives in open spaces, but some can also be found in forests. Besides their plates, armadillos have strong and short legs and curved claws that help them dig for food.

Why are armadillos mammals?

Armadillos look very different from other mammals, so why are armadillos mammals? The key features that make armadillos mammals are that they have hair, produce milk, and nurse their young.

Most other features of armadillos are distinctively different from those of other mammals:

-Armadillos have very small eyes that are covered by skin and scales

-Their ears are small and round with no external pinna

-Armadillos walk on the soles of their feet, which have leathery padding for extra protection

-They also use their tail for balance during locomotion (they walk quadrupedally)

-Armadillos have claws for digging instead of nails found in most animals, including other mammals

It is also important to note that fossil evidence shows the presence of osteoderms (bony plates embedded in skin) in extinct mammal relatives. These bony plates are seen in armadillos today.

What is an armadillo habitat like?

Armadillos live in North America and South America. An armadillo habitat comprises warm and temperate weather in ecosystems like rainforests, grasslands, and semi-deserts. They cannot survive in cold environments because they have a low metabolic rate and a lack of fat stores. This means an armadillo habitat must be warm and mild. Periods of intemperate weather can wipe out whole armadillo populations.

An armadillo’s habitat can vary greatly. They can survive and adapt in different habitats because they mostly live in burrows under the ground, protecting them from the temperatures above the ground. However, they can easily defend themselves with their shells when out of their burrows. Here are some of the main types of places where armadillos inhabit and thrive in:


A popular armadillo habitat is the Amazon Rainforest. There are four layers in a rainforest:

  • The shrub layer (the forest floor)
  • The under-canopy or understory layer
  • The canopy
  • The emergent layer (the top of the trees)

Armadillo’s habitats are located in the shrub layer of the rainforest, on the ground. They enjoy inhabiting rainforests because of the warm climate and the range of food available.


Armadillos can survive in semi-deserts, like in the more arid regions of North America, such as Utah and Arizona. They stay in desert conditions because they enjoy the warm temperatures and spend most of their time underground in burrows. Their shells also help to protect them from the heat.

What do armadillos eat?

Armadillos spend most of their days sleeping (they can sleep for as much as 16 hours a day). When they aren’t sleeping, they’re probably foraging for food.

These unique creatures are omnivores. They eat beetles, ants, termites, and other small insects. Because of their bad eyesight, they rely on their strong sense of smell to help them search for food. Their strong claws allow them to dig for their food, and they enable them to break open termite mounds.

Armadillos also sometimes eat small vertebrates, plants, and some fruit, as well as an occasional carrion meal. Carrion is the decaying flesh of dead animals.

Where do armadillos fall in the food chain?

Armadillos are consumers in their food chain. They rely on the supply of food that they eat to keep them alive. As mentioned before, they eat small bugs, insects, and termites, so they come above these creatures in the food chain.

Armadillos are not at the top of their food chain. But, of course, the animals that prey on armadillos depend on the type of armadillo habitat. Animals can hunt them, like wild dogs, cougars, raccoons, and coyotes. Hawks, owls, and feral pigs have also been known to prey on younger armadillos.

When an armadillo feels threatened, it can roll up into a ball so predators cannot hurt them.

Threats to armadillos

Armadillos are considered to be a species that is at risk. This is because they are widely consumed and considered a delicacy in some cultures across Central and South America.

The destruction of the armadillo habitat also endangers the armadillo population. The rapid collapse of forests, rainforests, and savanna areas for the expansion of agriculture mean that armadillos are losing their habitats. It is thought that approximately 50% of the Giant Armadillo’s habitat has been lost in the last ten years.

Top 10 Armadillos Facts for Kids:

  1. Armadillos have different colors. Some are salmon-colored, while others are red, grey, black, or yellow.
  2. They also have different sizes. They can measure from 15 centimeters to 1.5 meters
  3. Not all armadillos can transform their body into hard balls when they are scared. Of 20 species alive, only the Three-Banded Armadillo can curl its head and feet to escape danger inside its shell.
  4. Armadillos spend most of their days sleeping. They can sleep for as many as 16 hours a day!
  5. Their armor is hardened skin, similar to the material covering our nails.
  6. Armadillos can walk underwater and hold their breath for up to 6 minutes!
  7. They have a sticky tongue that helps them extract insects and termites that are too hard to reach with the claws in the ground.
  8. They live in holes in the ground and are typically active at night.
  9. Most armadillos have little hairs on their underparts, but the Pink Fairy Armadillo has white hair on the sides.
  10. They don’t have very good eyesight, but they have a fantastic sense of smell to compensate.
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