With tough skin and a resilient personality, armadillos are the ultimate mascot for the South.
The armadillo species originated in South America, but migrated upward to Central America and North America millions of years ago. These scaly critters have continued to expand their reach in the Americas over the last century, due to a lack of natural predators. Over the years, they've become an unofficial mascot for both Texas, the state's culture and country music scene.
Although these fascinating creatures are prevalent in the southern United States, very few people know much about them. Check out these surprising armadillo facts:
10. Swimming stars
Armadillos love to swim and they're pretty good at it, too. They have a strong doggy paddle, but they can also go a far distance underwater. They can hold their breath for up to six minutes.
9. Armadillos hate the cold
Armadillos have a low metabolic rate, which means they have naturally low body temperatures. Since they don't produce a lot of body heat, they prefer to live in warmer climates. They're concentrated in the warm, south-central region of the United States, primarily Texas. However, they've also been spotted in Massachusetts, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Illinois, Kansas, Florida and Louisiana, among other states.
8. Pink fairy armadillo
The pink fairy armadillo is the smallest species of armadillo, weighing about 4.2 oz. The average armadillo is the size of a large house cat. The pink fairies can be found inhabiting sandy plains, dunes, and scrubby grasslands.
7. Protective armor
Their most recognizable features are their armor-like shells, made of bony plates, that cover their backs. But did you know they are the only mammals with this natural, protective armor?
6. Babies have soft shells
These creatures are known for their hard shells, but not all of them have this. Contrary to popular belief, baby armadillos are born with soft shells, similar to human fingernails. Then, as they get older, they dispose the soft skin and grow a solid shell. This process is called ossification.
5. Sticky tongues
These critters have long, sticky tongues used to quickly slurp up insects and bugs from the ground.
4. They can contract leprosy
They're the only animal, besides humans, known to carry mycobacterium leprae, which causes leprosy. Since they can contract and spread the disease, Texas outlawed selling them.
3. Diggers in the dark
Despite their poor eyesight, they are prolific diggers. These nocturnal animals spend their nights foraging and building armadillo burrows.
2. Identical babies
Most female armadillos of the Dasypus family give birth to identical quadruplets. But armadillos are solitary animals, so these identical pups won't share their burrows once they grow up.
1. Curling up for protection
The three-banded armadillo is the only species that can roll into a ball for protection. Its armor works well against most predators, but not against cars.