Museum Blog

Turtle-Rabbits! - Zoology Object of the Week (April 25, 2011)

Posted 4/25/2011 12:04 AM by John Demboski | Comments

You may be familiar with this odd, tank-like creature if you've ever spent some time in Texas.  They can be hard to miss on the side of a road, dead or alive.  This is the nine-banded armadillo (Dasypus novemcinctus), a member of the mammalian order Cingulata and distantly related to sloths and anteaters.  In Colorado, nine-banded armadillos are rare, but we have specimens in the our mammal collection from Prowers County and a recent record from the San Luis Valley.  Nine-banded armadillos crossed into the USA in the late 1800's and have been expanding north and west ever since, Colorado included.

Twenty living species of armadillos are found in the New World, mostly in South America.  Their armor is made up of small plates of bone called "scutes", covered by dermal scales.  They are excellent diggers and many species are ant and termite diet specialists.  Armadillos live life in the slow lane with lower body temperatures (~92F) and lower basal metabolic rates than other placental mammals.  The nine-banded armadillo is interesting in that it gives birth to identical quadruplets called pups.  Another interesting fact is that nine-banded armadillos are the only mammal other than humans that can be infected with the bacteria that causes leprosy, due in part to their low body temperature.

Other species of armadillo found in the DMNS mammal collection include the southern three-banded armadillo (Tolypeutes matacus), which can roll up into a ball to protect itself  and the screaming hairy armadillo (Chaetophractus vellerosus), which derives its name from its alarm squeal.  The museum also has a specimen of the largest living species, the giant armadillo (Priodontes maximus) which can weigh up to 70 lbs. and is about 3X the size of the nine-banded armadillo.  Use the CD case for the Emerson Lake and Palmer progressive rock classic, Tarkus, for relative size comparison.

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