The nine-banded armadillo is of medium size and is covered over its whole body, and its head and tail, with an armored shell, which has horny scales and is considered by some to be unattractive. The scales are known as “scutes”. The shoulder plates and those on its rump are large. There are nine or fewer narrow, jointed armor bands that allow it to bend, located on its midsection. Its head is small and pointed, with a long snout, large pointed ears and peg-like teeth. There are large, thick, sharp claws on its front feet that help it burrow and dig. It has soft underparts, and although covered in armor, it has a little fur. Due to the sparseness of its fur, the animal is extremely sensitive to temperature. Armadillos are very good swimmers and runners, and they can easily walk underwater to cross small steams.
The nine-banded armadillo lives in pine forests, rainforests or dense shady woodlands in a rainy and warm environment, mostly in areas that are similar to their ancestral home, such as Peru, North Argentina and parts of the USA. Dry and cold environments do not suit them, and they prefer loamy or sandy soil, as this is more easy to dig up.
The armadillo is solitary and is primarily nocturnal. They usually forage during the night or at dawn or dusk but during cloudy or cold weather they will be out and about early during the day. They do not hibernate, though in the northern areas of their habitation they are more active during summer. An armadillo will mark its territory with secretions from its face, feet and rear. Their eyesight is poor but their sense of smell is extremely good. They dig burrows of a size very convenient for them near the trunk of a tree. They are able to jump as high as 3 to 4 feet when scared or startled.
These animals are insectivores and forage by digging with their snouts in loose soil. Their long, sticky tongue helps them grab ants, grubs, worms and termites, wrapping them up in their tongue. They will also eat tubers, small reptiles and amphibians.
Some studies have shown that within a given breeding season, nine-banded armadillos are polygnous with respect to pairing. The animals are sexually mature at about one year old. They produce young almost every year all throughout their lives, female can producing as many as 56 pups over the period of her life. Breeding occurs during July and August, and the gestation period is 4 months. Usually 4 identical babies are born, of the same gender, having developed from the same egg, sharing the same placenta. Baby armadillos have soft leathery skin which develops into armor as they grow. The babies nurse for approximately two months and stay for a couple more months with their mother.
These armadillos have many predators, including pumas, coyotes, maned wolves, black bears, red wolves, alligators, jaguars and bobcats. Raptors prey on the young. Humans in many rural areas hunt armadillos for their skin and meat, and car accidents kill thousands of them each year. As they have a high reproduction rate and their numbers are currently increasing, nine-banded armadillos are not seen to be a threatened species.
The population is estimated to be between 30-50 million.
Nine-banded armadillos are important as predators of a range of common insects which are agricultural pests. Aside from being hunted for their meat, their skin is used to create various trinkets. These animals can damage the roots of plants. They provide shelter to shucks, rattlesnakes, burrowing owls and cotton rats.