With their gray body armor, armadillos look a little bit like four-legged tanks. But how well does this armor keep them safe from predators? How does an armadillo protect itself, and what are some animals that are known for killing armadillos? Keep reading! In this article, we’ll answer all of these questions and more!
What You'll Learn Today
How Does an Armadillo Defend Itself?
Armadillos are unaggressive creatures that keep their heads down and try to avoid trouble; but what happens when trouble comes to them?
Yes, armadillos have their protective shells, but the shells are not indestructible. In order to keep themselves safe, they have several ways of warding off and escaping predators.
Armadillos are expert diggers, and one of the ways they protect themselves is by burrowing into the ground. They live in these burrows, so if they feel threatened they may escape the situation by running home.
If there’s no time to get away, they may “shelter in place” by pressing themselves into the dirt, grabbing onto plant roots to stabilize themselves. Their hard shells protect them from the top, so digging in this way can help defend their soft and vulnerable undersides.
Most of the time, armadillos just run away whenever they feel threatened. If they are surprised by a sudden noise or attack, they may jump up to 5 or 6 feet in the air before running.
Check out this video of an armadillo jumping when startled by an air horn.
If they are caught, they will thrash around and scratch like crazy to try and get loose. Despite their lazy nature and somewhat wimpy appearance, armadillos are quite strong, and they may surprise some attackers with their ability to fight back.
Do Armadillos Roll Up in Balls?
According to the San Diego Zoo, the three-banded armadillo is the only armadillo species that can roll all the way into a ball. The shape of its head fits perfectly into a gap in its shell when it rolls up, creating a fully armored ball with no weaknesses.
Most species of armadillo are unable to completely roll up, which can leave their underparts exposed. This is why they have adapted to digging themselves into the soil–it gives them a better chance of surviving since the ground is more protective of their undersides than their shell is.
How Strong is an Armadillo Shell?
Armadillo shells are made of bone, keratin, and collagen. According to a study found on Science Direct,
“The tough and highly mineralized tiles [of an armadillo’s shell] have a tensile strength of approximately 20 MPa.”
What does that mean in plain English?
It means that an armadillo’s shell is tough enough to resist the teeth of some predators, but lightweight enough to allow armadillos to run fast. The shell is much lighter and thinner than a turtle’s or tortoise’s shell, but not quite as protective.
An armadillo’s shell may deflect shots fired from a BB gun, but not likely from a real gun. It also will not protect the armadillo from the weight of a speeding car on the highway.
What Animals Can Kill Armadillos?
Armadillos may be killed by any number of predatory animals if they are not able to outrun or out-dig them. Common predators vary from region to region.
Some top predators of armadillos include:
- Coyotes: These wild dogs prey on lots of different animals, including raccoons, opossums, and armadillos. They have enough speed to be able to catch a running armadillo and the strength to pull them out of their burrows.
- Bears: Armadillos make a tasty snack for bears in any region where their habitats overlap. A bear’s powerful teeth and claws are strong enough to rip through an armadillo’s shell.
- Wolves: Wolves also enjoy eating armadillos on occasion. Like coyotes, they are skilled at running and at digging armadillos out of their burrows.
- Eagles: Eagles can spot armadillos from high up in the air and swoop down on them before the lowly land creature is aware of it. An eagle’s powerful talons can crush an armadillo’s shell, and the bird then eats the soft meat inside.
- Hawks: Hawks hunt armadillos in much the same way eagles do, though they tend to prefer smaller armadillos. They will not be able to lift and carry too large a load.
- Cougars: Cougars will eat nearly anything they can get their paws on, including armadillos. They may have a bit of trouble with the armadillo’s shell at first, but they are relentless in their pursuit of a meal and will do what it takes to get to the soft meat inside the shell.
- Bobcats: Bobcats are most active at night, the same time as armadillos. They hunt by sneaking up on pouncing on their prey, and because armadillos don’t usually pay much attention to what is going on around them, they make easy targets for bobcats.
In addition to these natural predators, your pets may also prey on armadillos. Large dogs especially may kill them for sport or because they are “protecting” your yard.
Armadillos have many natural predators, but they also have several ways to defend themselves. They can escape danger by running, burrowing, or digging themselves into the ground and clinging to the roots.
One species of armadillo even has the ability to roll into a ball. Though an armadillo’s shell isn’t completely invulnerable, it does provide some protection against certain predators and is light enough to allow the armadillo to run fast.