With its shell and large, sharp claws, the armadillo is a small mammal with a strange appearance. Where does it live, and what is special about him?
Funny and enigmatic with a shell similar to the plate mail of a medieval knight, the armadillo is quite an astonishing animal! There are twenty different species of armadillo (Cingulata) belonging to the families Chlamiphoridae and Dasypodidae. These animals obviously have a lot in common, but they also have some extraordinary characteristics.
The armadillo and its protective shell
The armadillo lives exclusively on the American continent and is found in the United States, where it is the state emblem of Texas, as well as in various countries in South and Central America. Among the best-known species are the three-banded armadillo, the nine-banded armadillo, the giant armadillo (up to 5 feet long!) and the pink fairy armadillo. The latter is the smallest armadillo in the world and has the added feature of being pink with white hairs. The distinctive feature of the armadillo, specific to all these species, is of course its shell which covers it entirely, from head to tail, including its legs.
The armadillo's shell is made up of bony, jointed plates covered with leather, and can be made up of separate sections connected by flexible skin or of several independent plates. Contrary to popular belief, not all armadillos have the ability to roll up on themselves in the event of an attack. While its shell obviously allows the armadillo to protect itself during an attack, notably by burying itself in the ground, only the Southern three-banded armadillo and the Brazilian three-banded armadillo can, like their cousin the pangolin, transform themselves into a ball. Its powerful digging claws are also a formidable weapon against predators.
The armadillo also has an extraordinary capacity to adapt. Very comfortable on land, it is also an excellent swimmer and can inflate itself with air to float on the surface of the water. But despite its defensive arsenal and agility, the armadillo is now a threatened species due to deforestation and hunting.
What do armadillos eat?
Not all armadillos have the same diet but most are insectivorous, feasting on worms, larvae, and other insects. They also eat fruits, berries, mushrooms, buds, and flowers. Some armadillos eat eggs, ants, caterpillars, spiders, or slugs.
The nine-banded armadillo also preys on frogs, toads, snakes, and lizards, and some South American species will eat maggots from decaying human bodies. This scavenging behaviour has given the armadillo a bad reputation.
The armadillo: the longest penis in the animal kingdom
In addition to its extraordinary shell, the armadillo has another unusual feature. In proportion to its size, it has the longest penis in the animal kingdom. A six-banded armadillo measuring about 12 inches can in fact have a penis measuring 6 inches!
Brazilian ecologist Nina Attias has written a thesis on the courtship of this very well endowed armadillo, even managing to film it. And the length of its appendage is not its only oddity. The six-banded armadillo breeds...by running. ‘You’ll see a female running like crazy and a bunch of males chasing her.’ Once a fast enough suitor manages to mount the female, ‘coitus actually happens while they’re running,’ she told National Geographic. Amazing!
In comparison, well-endowed humans seem platry as compared to their body size. Check ou the video above to learn more.