What Do Armadillos Eat? Everything You Need to Know!

Armadillos are probably one of the strangest creatures you can find in your backyard. Indeed, it looks like a merger of several other animals:

  • Its body is covered with bone plates, like

  • This is a mammal, like

  • It has a sticky tongue, like

  • It has a long tail like a reptile.

  • He has donkey ears.

  • It has strong, sharp claws to dig, like moles.

In short, it almost looks like a mouse-turtle hybrid!

With such a strange (yet so cute!) physique, it’s natural to wonder what these little creatures are eating. The short and sweet answer is: a little bit of everything! Indeed, armadillos being omnivores, they eat both animals and plants. Their diet consists mainly of insects, earthworms, worms, spiders, butterflies, snails, mice, lizards, eggs, fruits, seeds, tubers, mushrooms, and even the occasional carrion.

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Fast Facts About Armadillo

Order: Singulata
Family: Dasypodidae
Type: mammal
Lifetime: 7-10 years in the wild; 12-15 years in captivity
Size: 5 to 59 inches
Weight: 3 ounces to 120 pounds
Diet: omnivore

Armadillo . Overview


Armadillos are highly specialized land mammals that can be found in tropical and subtropical America. It has a triangular head which, like its body, is also covered with protective plates. Its legs are short and end with long claws that allow it to dig into the ground, making tunnels and caves in it. The general coloration of armadillos ranges from dark brown to fawn.

Armadillos are solitary animals with nocturnal habits, although, during winter, they move during the day because they do not like cold temperatures. They live in sandy mountains, steppes with thickets and tall yellow grass, where they dig their burrows.

The life expectancy of armadillos in the wild is 7 to 12 years, but is affected by changes in their natural habitat and hunting, as their meat and shell have great commercial value.

Do All Armadillo Species Eat The Same Thing?

Armadillos belong to the Dasypoda family, divided into three subfamilies: Dasypodinae, Euphractinae, and Tolypeutinae. There are 21 species in total; So, do they all eat the same thing?

Yes, all armadillos eat essentially the same diet – insects, small invertebrates – except for three species, which feed almost entirely on ants and termites:

  • Giant armadillo

  • Southern Triple Ribbon Armadillo

  • Pink Fairy Armadillo

armadillo eat

Where Do Armadillos Find Their Food?

Armadillos are master burrowers: they dig their burrows like moles, thanks to their short legs, which have sharp, curved claws. When not sleeping, armadillos use their powerful claws to dig other burrows, but not to build nests: this is where they find an abundant source of insects, such as ants and termites. Their long, sticky tongue is their best tool for pulling these invertebrates out of their tunnels. They also use their excellent sense of smell to search for food because their eyesight is relatively poor.

Can Armadillos Eat Snakes?

First, keep in mind that more than 90% of an armadillo’s diet consists of insects and larvae. They also eat small invertebrates, such as earthworms and spiders. However, some species don’t underestimate the occasional fun of vertebrates, like tiny frogs and, yes, even snakes!

What animals eat armadillos?

Humans are the main predators, hunting them mainly for their meat and shells. Other natural predators are, depending on where the armadillo lives: bears, wolves, pumas, raccoons, dogs and snakes.

armadillo on the grass

What is Armadillo Defensive Behavior?

The answer to this question lies in the name of the armadillo itself: in Spanish, the name means “little armored one”. This armor is made of plates of bone, called osteoderms, and protects it from predators. However, contrary to popular belief, only the Southern three-banded armadillo and the Brazilian three-banded armadillo can, like the pangolin, turn into a ball. Fortunately, species that can’t roll into a perfect little ball can use their powerful claws, which are excellent weapons against predators.

Are Armadillos Endangered?

Unfortunately, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species (IUCN), many armadillo species are threatened with extinction. For example, every year at the Oruro Carnival in Bolivia, dancers wear matraca, or rattles, made from the body of the Andean hairy armadillo. Destruction of their natural habitat, agriculture, and hunting are other man-made reasons for the decline of some armadillo species.

Is It Legal to Have an Armadillo as a Pet?

No, it is illegal to have an armadillo as a pet. In order to have an armadillo in captivity, you must have a special permit issued only to special places dedicated to the care and conservation of these beautiful primitive animals.

In addition, to legally adopt and care for an armadillo, you will need a certificate from a zoological center. However, animal protection laws are scarce or non-existent in many countries.

Therefore, it is not recommended to support this kind of practice because animals like armadillos need wild ecosystems to survive and have a better quality of life.

armadillo on land

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5 Unique Facts About Armadillo

1. Armadillo Shell Inspires Creation of Better Body Armor for Humans

The Armadillo’s shell, made of bone plates and coated with keratin (the protein that makes up your hair and nails), inspired researchers at McGill University in Montreal to create a protective material out of glass plates. The material is 70% more resistant to punctures than plates of the same thickness.

However, despite reports of bullets bouncing off armadillos, this creature is not bulletproof. In fact, predators can usually break their shells easily. So, armadillo armor was more like a hard shell suitcase than a bulletproof vest.

2. Humans Use Their Shells for Surprising Uses

  • Their bone armor is widely used in the manufacture of the “charango”, a string instrument similar to a guitar, typical of the Andes, and which has significant commercial value.

  • In Salvador, and more specifically in the city of San Alejos, armadillo meat is a trendy dish; it is known as cusuco.

  • The tail and shell are used medicinally: roasting humans, grinding and boiling them. This medicine is given to pregnant women with their first baby to soothe the pain after the baby is born. It also treats earache and inflammation and, mixed with armadillo fat, treats varicose veins.

armadillo outdoors

3. Armadillos Are Symbolic Animals of North America

The armadillo is the animal symbol of North America, particularly in Texas, where it is present in large numbers and represents the official coat of arms of the state. According to Jamie Sams and David Carson, authors of the book Medicine Card: Discovery of Strengths Through Animal Ways, the armadillo is the animal totem of Native American spirituality: “It helps us to limit what we accept to live, to define our space. It poses the necessary barriers to our balance while knowing to accept the external elements conducive to our development.”

4. Armadillos Can Carry Disease

Armadillos are vectors of certain diseases; indeed, it carries several disease-causing microorganisms, such as bacteria, Mycobacterium leprae, which causes leprosy. It is also a carrier of the flagellated protozoa of Trypanosomiasis Americana – better known as Chagas disease.

5. The Armadillo Is One Of The Three Most Sleeping Animals

Among the animals that sleep the most are koalas, bats and giant armadillos. This one rests about 18 hours a day, just like the opossum and python.

In comparison, human babies need about 16 hours of sleep per day, domestic cats between 12 and 16 hours, and dogs between 12 and 14 hours.

Also, note that lions and tigers are also considered sleepy animals, but although they spend most of their time lying down, they are not among the three sleepiest animals.

two armadillos in the dark

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Final Thoughts

As strange as they may seem, the armadillo is a peaceful and serene animal that plays an important role in the ecosystem by keeping populations of insects and small invertebrates under control. If you ever find one of these strange creatures in your backyard, contact a specialist who will help you return it to its natural habitat. Armadillos will never harm a human (on the other hand), but they can ruin your yard by digging for their favorite food.

Featured Image Credit: Andrey E. Donnikov, Shutterstock

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