Armadillos are any of several small mammals of the family Dasypodidae, mostly known for having a bony armor shell. Their average size is about 75 centimeters (30 inches), including tail. All species are native to the American continents, where they inhabit a variety of environments. more...
In the United States, the sole resident armadillo is the 9-banded armadillo (Dasypus novemcinctus), which is most common in the central southern states, particularly Texas.
Armadillos are placental mammals in the order Xenarthra, related to the anteaters and sloths. There are several species of armadillo, some of which are distinguished by how many bands they have on their armor. They are prolific diggers, and many species use their sharp claws to dig for food such as grubs and/or to dig dens. The 9-banded armadillo prefers to build burrows in moist soil near the creeks, streams, and arroyos near which it generally lives and feeds. The diet of armadillo species varies, but consists mainly of insects, grubs, and other invertebrates. Some species, however, are almost entirely termite/ant specialists.
The armor is formed by plates of dermal bone covered in small, overlapping , epidermal scales called scutes. This armor-like skin would appear to be the main defense of many armadillos, though, in fact, most flee predators by running and/or digging rather than relying on their armor. Only the South American 3-banded armadillo (Tolypeutes) tends to rely heavily on its armor. When threatened by a predator, Tolypeutes frequently will roll up into a ball. Other armadillo species cannot roll up because they have too many plates to curl. Instead, other armadillos will sometimes escape predators by running into thorny brush, relying on their armor to protect them from the thorns. The North American 9-banded armadillo tends to jump straight in the air when surprised, and consequently often smacks itself into the undercarriage of cars passing over it.
Armadillos are often used in the study of leprosy, since they, along with mice, are the only known non-human animal species that can contract the disease systemically. They are particularly susceptible due to their unusually low body temperature, which is hospitable to the leprosy bacterium (Mycobacterium leprae).
The 9-banded armadillos also serve science through their unusual reproductive system, in which four identical quadruplets (all the same sex) are born in each clutch of armadillos. Because they are always identical, the group of four armadillos provide good subjects for scientific, behavioral, or medical tests that need consistent biological and genetic makeup in the testees. This phenomenon of multiple identical birth, called polyembryony, only manifests in the genus Dasypus, not all armadillos as is commonly believed.
The armadillo was, with some resistance, made the state small mammal of Texaswhere it is considered a pest. But in Maine, it is illegal to own an armadillo.
Armadillos can be kept as pets, although they do require moist ground in which to dig and catch insects. They are, however, difficult to domesticate fully.
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