Driving back from Snake Road in southern Illinois one evening last month, I saw this cool and unusual creature rooting around in an empty field.
Though their body shape resembles that of an opossum, the Nine-banded Armadillo is more closely related to sloths and anteaters. Around 20 species of armadillo exist, but the Nine-banded is the only one found in the United States.
The term “armadillo” means “little armored one” in Spanish, and refers to the presence of the bony, armor-like plates covering their body. Contrary to their common name, Nine-banded Armadillos can have 7 to 11 bands of armor.
Nine-banded Armadillos are solitary, largely nocturnal animals that come out to forage around dusk. They are extensive burrowers, with a single animal sometimes maintaining up to 12 burrows on its range. I most often see them at night, like this one from a couple of years ago.
They are mainly insectivores that forage for meals by thrusting their snouts into loose soil and leaf litter and digging up grubs, beetles, ants, termites, and worms, which their sensitive noses can detect through 8 inches of soil.
During the Great Depression, the species was hunted for its meat in East Texas, where it was known as poor man’s pork, or the “Hoover Hog” by those who considered President Herbert Hoover to be responsible for the Depression.
Nine-banded Armadillos nearly always have litters of four babies – identical quadruplets. Armadillo babies look very much like adults, but are smaller and softer than their armored parents. This is a fascinating animal that I always enjoy encountering.