Posted by: tysonrc | January 11, 2010

Hungry Armadillos


The 9-banded armadillo (Dasypus novemcinctus) is new to these parts.  In the past several years only two have been spotted (both alive) on Tyson Research Center. The excellent photos in this entry are all the same individual and were taken by Dr. James Trager at the Shaw Nature Reserve last week near the Meramec river.  Armadillos may be more numerous in Shaw because of all the healthy prairie supporting plenty of soil invertebrates.  

While these armored mammals have been in Missouri for the last 20-30 years, they have just recently pushed this far north.  They have expanded their range very quickly compared to other animals.   This may bring dismay to both gardeners and farmers, as they have been known to root around in cultivated areas, but a short fence will stop these generally apathetic creatures from causing anyone gardening distress.  It should be noted that unlike exotic pests, the 9 banded armadillo is native and is naturally expanding its range.   

The very interesting thing with this situation is that range expansion can be fraught with disaster.  Illustrated very clearly by the extended below freezing weather we have had for the last two weeks.  These animals do not hibernate, although they will go into a den.  They need to eat all winter long and their primary food source is invertebrates.  Even though the legs of the armadillo are strong and made for digging, they can not dig through thickly frozen soil.  hopefully, the individual in these photos was fed a hearty meal of ants from Dr. Trager’s pockets. (Myrmecologists have a curious habit of carrying and collecting ant samples pretty much all the time.)  


All signs indicate that they will continue moving north, despite having an inevitable population drop every few winters.  A good (albeit unfortunate) measure of whether these animals are in your area is to pay attention to the roadkill.  Armadillos have the instinct to jump when they are scared and as a car approaches them, they will jump straight up in the air; if they would not do this, most cars would safely cruise over them. Due to this adaptation to jump, roadkill is readily seen in areas that armadillos are occupying.   

Hopefully, many of our newly arrived armor clad friends have been able to survive this current cold snap by dining on insects inside rotten logs and, of course, the aforementioned “pocket ants”.  They are an excellent addition to Missouri’s diverse fauna and we are happy to have them as new arrivals on the grounds of Tyson Research Center.  

after the photo shoot, this armadillo plods away


–Travis Mohrman



  1. No pocket ants this time of year. Anyway, I’m not sure the dillers would appreciate their ants saturated with 95% Ethanol. That’s more of a frugivore predilection.

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