The Armadillo: This Iconic Texas Creature Isn’t a Native Texan at All

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Tony Maples Photography


Did you know that one of Texas’ most iconic creatures isn’t a native Texan? The nine-banded armadillo, whose taxidermied shells grace many a tourist trap gift shop around our state, originally hailed from Mexico. The name, “armadillo,” translated from Spanish means, “little armored one.

According to Texas Parks and Wildlife, the first armadillo to be recorded in the state was in South Texas in 1849. By the early 1900s they had expanded to the Austin and San Antonio regions, and by the 1950s the armadillo had staked claims across East Texas. By the 1970s, the creatures were found in Oklahoma and Arkansas. They have also been seen in Florida and are now common in Missouri.

An Adaptable Little Critter


Photo: Flickr/Sue

Armadillos are considered “generalists,” meaning that they can thrive in a variety of habitats and conditions. The nine-banded armadillo is noted for its swimming skills, which are accomplished via two different methods: it can walk underwater for short distances, holding its breath for as long as six minutes or, to cross larger bodies of water, it is capable of increasing its buoyancy by swallowing air, inflating its stomach and intestines. Being adaptable has helped the armadillo to survive and cover new territory in the United States.

With an Impressive Vertical Leap


Photo: Pixabay/skeeze

In captivity, the armadillo can live to be 12-15 years old but in the wild, four to five years is common. Armadillos are mainly insectivores, with over 90 percent of their diet consisting of animal matter, like insects and other invertebrates. They’re also known to eat the occasional reptile or amphibian – especially in colder weather. It’s also widely noted that when frightened, nine-banded armadillos will jump vertically about three to four feet in the air. Scientists believe this is a defense mechanism for scaring potential predators.

This resilient “little armored one” is as entwined in the narrative of Texas as The Alamo. As the armadillo’s territory expands, more people might grow to know (and love) this creature as much as we do. To learn more about the nine-banded armadillo, visit the Texas Parks and Wildlife website.