Arkansas' nine-banded armadillo (Dasypus novemcinctus) is a stranger in a strange land. It's one of the state's most unusual mammals, and it's the most recent arrival.
Armadillos evolved in South and Central America. The nine banded armadillo is the gypsy of the family. It's wandered farther and farther north during the past several hundred years, colonizing in Texas and moving as far north as Colorado and as far east as Mississippi.. No one is certain how long the nine banded armadillo has lived in Arkansas. The first recorded armadillo report dates back to 1921. It now occurs in every county. However, the armadillo's tropical roots show in its poor tolerance for cold. Arkansas' occasional hard winters prevent its becoming numerous in the northern half of the state.
The armadillo is the only North American mammal with a covering of hard, bony plates. Its head, 'possum size body and tail are all armored. Only the belly shows soft, light colored skin. The central portion of the body is encircled by nine moveable rings - hence the name. Above, it's a brownish black color with widely scattered hairs and yellowish spots on the sides. It has a long, pointed snout and a narrow head topped with erect, funnel shaped ears. Adult armadillos may weight from 8 to 17 pounds.
Armadillos like to burrow, and they're good at it. So good, in fact, they often run into trouble with humans who take a dim view of 'diller digs in the middle of their lawns and golf courses. Burrows afford armadillos protection from temperatures. They also provide the same benefits for rabbits, skunks, opossums and other animals.
Armadillos have excellent senses of hearing and smell. However, their eyesight is poor, and they frequently come out on the losing end of encounters with automobiles, which probably kill more armadillos than any predator.
Armadillos eat large numbers of insect pests, but this is little consolation to people whose yards or gardens are systematically "Roto Rootered." Armadillos are nocturnal during the summer, spending the hot daylight hours in burrows and coming out in the cool nighttime to search for food. During winter, they reverse this pattern to take advantage of daytime warmth.
Armadillos dig shallow holes in search of food, grunting like piglets all the while. When startled, they jump straight up in the air, then scurry into the nearest burrow. Armadillos are often blamed for declines in quail populations, but studies show that 90 percent of their diet consists of invertebrates, such as insects, earthworms, grubs, termites, spiders and crayfish. Experiments with caged armadillos indicate most don't recognize bird eggs as potential food.