Armadillo Protective Armor
The name armadillo is derived from the diminutive of the Spanish word "armado" one that is armed. Body armor in mammals is generally made of compressed hair, as in the plates of pangolins and the horns of the rhinoceros, but the armor of the armadillos is made up of small plates of bone, each covered by a layer of horny skin and seperated from its neighbors by soft skin from which sparse hairs grow. The back armor hangs down over the body protecting the soft underparts and limbs. It is divided into 2 shields, one covering the fore limbs and one the hind limbs, the two being linked across the middle of the back by a series of transverse bands of plates that allow the armor to be flexed. The number of transverse bands varies between species and in some they are sufficiently flexible to allow the animal to curl up. The head is also armored and in most species the tail is protected by a series of transverse bony rings. The softer underparts are covered with a dense layer of hair and scattered small bony scales.
If cornered armadillos will defend themselves with their sharp claws, but they are more likely to run away, some species moving surprisingly fast! They will also attempt to burrow into the ground if they cant find a hole. Armadillos like the pichi will draw in their feet and wedge the surrounding armor firmly into the ground. This ruse is effective against birds and some mammals, but not coyotes who can pierce their armor. The three-banded armadillo is more effectively protected by its complete rolling up but large predators like the jaguar have a large enough gape to crack its protective shell.
All over their range armadillos have been relished for their flesh and the armor can be fashioned into a basket with the tail bent under and inserted into the mouth to make the handle. As yet this persecution has had little effect of the armadillo populations.
In its movement up into the USA, the nine-banded armadillo is increasingly meeting the hazard of cars on the road. This danger is accentuated because of the animals habit of leaping into the air if alarmed, so that even when straddled by the wheels of a fast moving vehicle, the upward jump of alarm results in the armadillo crashing against the chassis.
Some species of armadillo are agricultural pests, tearing up crops just looking for some insects, but they also help us because they eat the unwanted insects. The rather rare fairy armadillo is becoming rarer because increased ploughing, due to the spread of arable land, disturbs its way of life.
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