If you’ve read my post on the leaf-litter gecko, you know about my fascination with word origins. Well, from an etymological standpoint, today’s featured species is making me a little crazy. I don’t know who decided to christen him the “nine-banded armadillo,” even going so far as to legitimize this name in Linnaean taxonomy with the elegant Latin novemcinctus, but these creatures can have anywhere between seven and eleven bands. I think I’d be similarly peeved if red-footed boobies were sometimes spotted with purple or yellow feet (but these comical birds are true to their names).
And you’ll soon discover that this native species of Panama has plenty of other interesting traits that could have inspired a more apt name. If after reading this post, you think up a great alternative name for the nine-banded armadillo, please leave a comment! I’d love to hear it!
I don’t take issue with the Spanish word armadillo, meaning “little armored one,” or the genus name Dasypus from the Greek term for rabbit. These guys really do look like medieval bunnies suited up for the joust, especially when sitting up on their hind legs.
And they can certainly jump like rabbits. The nine-banded armadillo pops up like a piece of toast – up to five feet in the air – when frightened, a tactic that works to distract a predator long enough for the armadillo to scurry away. Since you wouldn’t want to intentionally scare these peaceful animals, you may need to be patient with the natural order if you’re hoping to witness armadillo popcorn. Wait for a raucous monkey or jungle cat to do the scaring.
Along with his built-in armor and jumping prowess, the armadillo has other useful adaptations, such as powerful claws proficient at raiding anthills and unearthing beetles, worms, snails, and insect larvae. His large ears and a long snout provide him with excellent auditory and olfactory senses. However, the nine-banded armadillo’s vision is quite poor, evinced by his small mole-like eyes.
On Isla Palenque, you’ll have the opportunity to see these creatures in the wild, exhibiting their characteristic crepuscular (primarily active during twilight hours, from dusk to dawn) behavior. Since nine-banded armadillos are not considered a threatened species, there’s a good chance you’ll see one on a wildlife-spotting excursion in the island’s nature preserve. These armadillos, like margays, prefer to keep to themselves. They traverse forests and grasslands in solitude, only interacting with one another during breeding season (late summer and autumn). For a truly precious sight, visit Isla Palenque during the winter months, when new mother armadillos tuttle around the rainforest floor with their babies trailing behind duckling-style.
Fun Facts About Nine-Banded Armadillos
The species originated in South America; the formation of the isthmus of Panama provided this creature a conduit to North and Central America.
The only species of armadillo found in the US, and the most widespread of any armadillo species (they’re also found in Mexico, Belize, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, French Guiana, Grenada, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, and Peru).
Related to anteaters and sloths (one big happy family of weirdos).
In Depression-era America, unemployed and destitute Texans survived by eating these armadillos, nicknaming them “Texas turkeys” and “Hoover hogs.”
During the 1970s, Texans began holding armadillo races. The Armadillo World Headquarters is located in Austin, Texas. That’s right – the Armadillo World Headquarters.