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Jan/Feb 2012 cover image

Wild Thing: Determined Digger

The iconic nine-banded armadillo delves deep for tasty bugs.

By Louie Bond

Sure, we all know that the nine-banded armadillo is the iconic wildlife symbol of Texas. It’s hard to miss this so-ugly-it’s-cute creature whose prehistoric image can be found on countless kitschy souvenirs in roadside shops. When my husband carved a larger-than-life limestone replica for a Dripping Springs storefront, we found out more about the animal beneath the trademark suit of armor.

Armadillos sport 18 toes (eight front, 10 back) with large, strong claws used to dig for insects and other foods. The softer the soil, the more armadillos you’ll find nearby, particularly when water is handy.

While the reputation of Dasypus novemcinctus as a gravedigger may be true, the armadillo is sometimes blamed for egg stealing done by other predators. They can uproot a large area of your vegetable garden looking for grubs and worms, as I’ve discovered the hard way many a summer morning.

Though armadillos avoid marshy areas, they do enjoy a nice mudbath. This spa treatment doesn’t soften the armadillo’s protective casing, or carapace. Large shields protect the shoulders and rear quarters, and bony rings cover the long tail. Nine bands ring the area in between. Armadillos are active on summer nights and winter days, as they don’t have much protection from heat or cold, with only a light dusting of pale hairs.

Armadillos tire easily in the water, but have a unique way of dealing with travel needs. If the stream is too large to cross by foot, armadillos inflate themselves by ingesting air, increasing their buoyancy and improving their swimming skills.

Half the female armadillos are pregnant by mid-summer, though the pregnancy goes on hold until November, when implantation happens. Each mother gives birth to quadruplets in the spring, and allows her offspring to hang around beyond the two-month nursing period.

While you won’t find it on café menus, the light-colored meat has been used as food in parts of Texas and Mexico. Tastes like pork, they say.

Related stories

Wild Thing: Badgers Dig for Dinner

Wild Thing: Love Stinks for Skunks

Wildlife Fact Sheet: Armadillo


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