Do Armadillos Play Dead?

The Burrell-shaped armadillos are weird yet some of the world’s most fascinating creatures that inhabit South, Central, and North America. 

They’re the only living mammals with a shell made of bony plates covering their heads, legs, backs, and tails (and that’s why in Spain, they go by the name the little armored one).

And to add to their odd appearances, some species of armadillos always have identical quadruplets!

But can the weird creatures also play dead? Feigning death is a mechanism several animals across the world pull to have a survival chance in the cold wild. The technique fools predators that don’t feast on dead prey, while other animals do it to lure in potential, unsuspecting prey or even a mate.

If you’re wondering if armadillos play dead, you’ve come to the right place. Not only that, but you’ll also learn more about this world’s weird and fascinating creatures.

Let’s go…


Do Armadillos Play Dead?

The nine-banded armadillo, also called the common long-nosed armadillo, is the only armadillo species that play dead. It’s the most familiar species and lives in grassland and forested habitats with warm, wet climates in Southern America. 

When threatened or caught by a predator, the nine-banded armadillo can either stiffen or relax its body to stay still and look like it’s dead. While the intelligent move fools the predator into believing the animal is no longer alive, they’re also surprised by how the armadillo has died instantly. And in this confusion, the armadillos earn time to escape. 

The mechanism of feigning death is known as catatonia, thanatosis, or tonic immobility (TI). It’s common in several animal species throughout the world, including opossums and some species of snakes and ducks. To the nine-banded armadillos, playing dead is one of the different ways mammals protect themselves from predators. 

However, if the predator, say a hungry hyena, is persistent or cannot ignore a dead animal, the nine-banded armadillo resorts to kicking vigorously as the last option.

Why Do Armadillos Die on Their Backs? 

Does it even happen? There’s a lot of controversy on why armadillos die on their backs. And in fact, some accounts question if the mystery is even true. 

After sampling 174 images of armadillo roadkill, a team of researchers suggested that the animals die on their backs due to gas that causes bloating and abdominal rapture, tipping them onto their backs as they decompose. 

Animal Roam, meanwhile, claims that the shells of armadillos are too heavy for the animals, and when they die, their backs get the better of them.

Do Armadillos Live Alone? 

Yes. Armadillos are not social animals and spend about 16 hours a day sleeping alone in burrows. And when not asleep,  the western mammals are out foraging for vertebrates, fruits, and carrion. 

But while being solitary animals, like koalas and opossums, armadillos interact during the breeding season, and you can find them moving in pairs. Also, during cold seasons, armadillos often come together to share warmth.

The mothers also interact with their young ones as they’ve to care for them. But after a couple of months, say six, they part ways and lead a solitary life.

Who are the Predators of Armadillos?

Depending on where they live, armadillos can have a few or many predators, including coyotes, wolves, bobcats, dogs, black bears, and pumas. Feral pigs and some raptors, including hawks and owls, also prey on young armadillos with fingernail-soft shells. 

Humans living in the rural areas of America where the armadillos occur also hunt the animals for their prized white meat as an alternative to pork. During the great depression, out of hunger and lack of money, people relied heavily on armadillos for meat. 

But despite having a sea of predators, armadillos are not endangered, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). That’s because armadillos have high reproductive rates, particularly the nine-banded armadillos.


How Do Armadillos Protect Themselves?

While armadillos are docile animals that usually have their heads down and do anything to avoid trouble, they have a couple of options, depending on the species, they use to defend themselves. 

The first defense tactic is to flee the predator. They might look lazy but can run fast at about 30 miles per hour to retreat to burrows. Once inside the holes, the pink fairy armadillos have a unique strategy that makes it impossible for predators to pull them out. Thanks to its truncated body, it flexes its plates against the sides of the holes to plug the entrance.

And because they live close to their burrows, in many cases, armadillos are safe. But when there are no shelters nearby, armadillos press their bodies against the ground, holding plant roots to keep themselves steady while their hard armor protects them. Furthermore, they can dig using their long, strong claws and burrow into the ground in a couple of minutes. 

Southern three-banded armadillos and Brazilian armadillos are unique, and they may choose not to run. Unlike other armadillos, these two species have a few plates, so their bodies are flexible. When threatened, they can roll into a scaly, croquet solid ball, curling their back feet and heads to protect the vulnerable underparts. And because of the hard-to-scratch shells of armadillos, the predators, unable to penetrate, look for food elsewhere. 

And if our peaceful mammals can’t flee, a crazy fight ensues, with armadillos scratching and clawing at predators. And to make the fighting worse, armadillos produce a musky odor from their anal glands to startle the attackers, which by the time they realize, it’s too late and the armadillos have escaped. 

And as we mentioned, the nine-banded armadillos are cunning tricksters that feign death as a defense mechanism. But before they do so, they leap vertically, mimicking a bucking horse, so the predators are astonished by the sudden death of the animals. 

There are reports and claims everywhere that armadillos are bulletproof – which would imply the animals can protect themselves as they flee from human predators with guns. But that’s far from the truth. Their bodies adorn oversize shells made of many bony plates known as osteoderms growing in their skin.

Although the shell is hard, it does nothing to protect the creatures from the claws and jaws of predators. That said, it allows the armadillos to hide in thorny bushes, where many predators, including raptors, cannot reach.

What is the Lifespan of Armadillos?

The lifespan of Armadillos varies according to the species and where they live. For example, the pink fairy armadillos can live up to around ten years, while nine-banded species can survive up to 15 years. 

In captivity, however, armadillos can live up to 30 years as there are no predators to prey on them.

Do Armadillos Have Scales? 

Yes, but in a rather complex way, think of turtles. But in armadillos, the scales are tough and horn-covered to make up the carapace, a set of plates covering much of their bodies, including the head, back, legs, and tails. The scaly plates create the armor and overlap to provide the animals extra protection. The animals derive the scales from their skin tissues. 

Interestingly, armadillo scales are much like your fingernails, as the animals shed them throughout the year. It’s an adaptation that makes armadillos stay protected always.

Do Armadillos Lay Eggs? 

No, the reptile-looking animals don’t lay eggs. Like the majority of mammals, they instead give birth to young ones called pups in 15-feet-wide burrows after a gestation period of between two to five months.

Twin births are common in many species, while the seven-banded armadillo has between eight and fifteen pups at a time. 

But the most mysterious is the nine-banded armadillo, which always gives birth to four 100% identical pups of the same gender. According to scientists, after mating, the sole egg of the female splits into four genetically identical cells, meaning the offsprings will genetically resemble each other. As per the scientists, that could be an adaptation for animals to expand their population. 

Armadillo pups are weaned in four months and have a fast maturity rate. In 12 months, they’re mature enough to go on their own and produce their own pups. 

The Takeaway

Generally, all armadillos are weird, thanks to their bodies of a pig, a pill bug, a medieval knight, and a touch of insect. And to make it worse, they’re unbelievably mammals! 

And when you scrutinize the specific species, you’ll meet some of the world’s fascinating creatures, including the nine-banded armadillos who feign death as a defense mechanism and give birth to identical quadruplets of the same sex! And not to mention the Southern Brazilian and three-banded armadillos, who curl themselves into a solid ball that can’t be undone by even the most resilient predator.

Disclaimer: This blog should not be considered as being professional pet medical advice. The content published on this blog is for informational purposes only. Please always consult with a licensed and local veterinarian for medical advice.

About Shaun Clarke

Shaun is passionate about pets and animals, especially dogs, cats, and rabbits. He owns a dog and a couple of cats too. He loves visiting wildlife sanctuaries and shares a strong bond with animals. When he is not writing, he loves to do a barbecue in the backyard with his family and friends.