Photograph by Peter Price
Armadillos range from the central United States south through Central and South America, there are 20 species in 8 genera. The species found in Trinidad and Tobago is known as Dasupus novemcinctus or the nine-band armadillo, it is found from Peru and northern Argentina to the south-central and southeastern United States and on the island of Grenada. In Trinidad, this animal is known locally as a "tattoo".
Most members of this genus have very little hair, with almost no hair on the upper part of the body and sparsely scattered pale yellow hair on the undersides. The most notable physical characteristic of D. novemcinctis (and all armadillos) is the leathery skin and ossified dermal plates on the back, sides, tail and top of the head that form a hard carapace. This carapace is divided into three sections: a scapular shield, a pelvic shield, and a series of telescoping "bands" around the mid-section. The bands are connected by soft, hairless skin and the anterior edge of each band is overlapped by the preceding band. Although called the nine-banded armadillo, it can have as few as 7 or as many as 11 bands. The tail is covered by 12 to 15 rings. The head is pointed with a pig-like snout and they have short stout limbs with long sharp curved claws. Their color ranges from mottled brown to yellowish white. Males are generally larger than females with a total adult length between 616mm and 800mm. Their weight ranges from 3.6kg to 7.7kg.
Armadillos in the genus Dasypus are primarily nocturnal, but occasionally forage in the daytime. They emit almost constant grunting noises while they are foraging. They have poor eyesight, relying on their ears and noses to detect food or predators. Armadillos prowl with the snout close to the ground and root with the snout or dig with the claws when food is found in the ground. The nine-banded armadillo principally eats animal matter, including ants, beetles, other anthropods, small reptiles and amphibians. Like most insect eating mammals, armadillos have a very long, sticky tongue that is used to collect insects. Birds and small mammals are occasionally be eaten, along with carrion. Some plant matter, principally fruit, berries and debris round out the diet.
Armadillos construct burrows, which may be occupied by several animals, usually of the same sex. Burrows are also often shared with other mammals such as possums (manicou). Contrary to popular belief, the nine-banded armadillo can not roll itself into a ball to escape predators. The many bony plates do not allow them to curl up. Only the three-banded armadillo (Tolypeutes tricinctus ) is able to roll up. Other armadillos rely on their armored shells for defense while they scuttle away through thick, thorny brush or dig themselves a hole to hide in. They have been reported to outrun hunters and dogs. When chased into a burrow they wedge themselves in by arching the back against the burrow walls and are very difficult to dislodge. When confronted by a water barrier, armadillos have two means of crossing. If the water is shallow and narrow, armadillos can walk or run across the bottom because their specific gravity is 1.06. To cross deeper or broader stretches of water, armadillos gulp air into the digestive tract and swim like a dog. Because their heavy shell makes it hard for them to float, the air in the digestive tract makes them more buoyant. They can hold their breath for four to six minutes at a time.
Fox, D. 1999. "Dasypus novemcinctus" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. at
Armadillo Online - http://www.msu.edu/~nixonjos/armadillo/dasypus.html#septemcinctus
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