Armadillo, Southern Three-banded


Tolypeutes matacus


Head and body length: 8.6 — 10.7 in (218 — 273 mm); tail length: 2.4 – 3.1 in (60 — 80 mm); weight: 2.2 – 3.5 lbs. (1.00 — 1.59 kg); coloration: yellow or brownish.

Family

Dasypodidae

Order

Cingulata

Class

Mammalia

Range

Northern Argentina, southwestern Brazil, Paraguay and Bolivia

Habitat

Grassy or marshy areas between scattered forestland

Life Expectancy

Up to 20 years in captivity

Sexual Maturity

9 – 12 months

Diet

In the wild, they eat insects, typically beetle larvae, ants and termites; in the Zoo, they are fed a scientifically developed, commercially available diet, a variety of fruits and vegetables, hard boiled eggs, mealworms, and superworms.

Status

IUCN – Neat Threatened

Behaviors

Unlike most armadillos, the southern three-banded armadillo are not fossorial (adapted to digging and life underground). They do not dig burrows of their own but use abandoned anteater burrows, or they make their dens under dense vegetation. The southern three-banded armadillo has a long, sticky, straw-like pink tongue that allows it to gather up and eat many different species of insects. Southern three-banded armadillos may be found at densities of up to 7 animals per square kilometer. They are primarily solitary, although groups of up to 12 have been observed sharing the same den site during cold spells. The southern three-banded armadillo is peculiar among armadillos for its rolling behavior. It can completely close its shell around its entire body. Usually it leaves a small space between a section of its armor, which it forcefully closes on the hand, finger, or paw of a would-be predator. This shell is also very efficient at trapping air, which is warmed by body heat, and thus conserves heat loss.

Adaptions

The southern three-banded armadillo and the other member of the genus Tolypeutes, the Brazilian three-banded armadillo, are the only species of armadillo capable of rolling into a complete ball to defend itself. The three characteristic bands that cover the back of the animal allow it enough flexibility to fit its tail and head together, allowing it to protect its underbelly, limbs, eyes, nose and ears from predators. The shell covering its body is armored and the outer layer is made out of keratin, the same protein that builds human fingernails. Armadillos in general have low body temperatures (33–36 °C) and basal metabolic rates (from 40–60% of that expected in a placental mammal of their mass). This is particularly true of types that specialize on using termites as their primary food source (e.g., Priodontes and Tolypeutes). The 2nd, 3rd and 4th toes of the hind foot are grown together, almost like a hoof. The 1st and 5th toes remain separate. The southern three-banded armadillo has four toes on the fore foot. The claws on the forefeet are very strong. Southern three-banded armadillos generally walk on the tips of the foreclaws, even when running.

Special Interests

The word “armadillo” is Spanish for “little armored one”. Armadillo shells had traditionally been used to make the back of the charango, an Andean lute instrument; nowadays charangos are made entirely of wood. Armadillo head plates are unique to each armadillo, like human fingerprints. Armadillos are often used in the study of leprosy, since they, along with mangabey monkeys, rabbits and mice (on their footpads), are among the few known non-human animal species that can contract the disease systemically. They are particularly susceptible due to their unusually low body temperature, which is hospitable to the leprosy bacterium, Mycobacterium leprae. The leprosy bacterium is difficult to culture and armadillos have a body temperature of 34 °C, similar to human skin. The diploid number of chromosomes is 2n = 38, the lowest of any armadillo studied to date. Most other armadillos have 2n = 50 to 64. (Humans have a diploid chromosome number of 2n = 48, for comparison.)

Folklore

Conservation

Due to the fact that the southern three-banded armadillo does not dig a burrow, and has the habit of rolling into a ball when threatened, it is easier to hunt than other armadillo species, and faces high-levels of hunting pressure across its range. This threat is compounded by the conversion of large amounts of its habitat to agricultural land. As a result, the southern three-banded armadillo is undergoing a significant decline and may soon warrant threatened status. This species is listed as Near Threatened by the IUCN because it is probably in significant decline (albeit at a rate of less than 30% over ten years) because of widespread habitat loss through much of its range, and because of exploitation for food, thus making the species close to qualifying for Vulnerable under the criterion.

Jacksonville Zoo History

This species was first found in our animal collection in 2003 in preparation for the Spring 2004 opening of the “Range of the Jaguar” exhibit area.

Exhibit

Range of the Jaguar