Armadillos are mammals of medium size that can be recognized by the hard covering on their body called bands. There are nearly 20 species of armadillos. Originally from South America, these animals have recently found their way into Mexico and USA. From the 20 species, only the nine banded armadillo is commonly found in USA.
These armadillos eat ants, termites and other insects. They are able to smell them beneath the soil and then dig up the soil to get at the insects. They also dig burrows and stay hidden in them when they sense danger. They areable to jump a few feet in the air when frightened. With increasing numbers they are now considered a pest and a nuisance by the Americans.
Since it is not a native North American mammal, let’s find the reasons for its thriving population in the continent.
• Formation of Isthmus of Panama
The nine banded armadillos had its natural habitat in the rain forests of South America. Millions of years ago the two continents of America were separated. But due to volcanic activity,theIsthmus of Panama was formed. This provided a link between North and South America. This link facilitated the crossing of many animals from South America to North America. Armadillos are one such animal.
• Increased European settlement
With the European settlement in central and North America taking roots, irrigation and farming, decreased forest fires and reduced hunting, all provided ideal conditions for armadillos to thrive. With better irrigation and less forest fires, grassland got converted to underbrush which is the preferred habitat of the mammal. With reduced hunting, less and less armadillos were killed for their meat. Due to human activity large predators also decreased. Hence, with lessened threat to their lives the armadillo population flourished.
• Travelling by humans
With increased settlement, people started travelling from place to place. Some of the armadillos that were held captive in zoos or circus got released accidently during such travels. Movement of farm animals like cattle’s from one state to another also contributed to widespread distribution of armadillos. They would hide in such cattle cars and escape when the cars got unloaded. Because of the reproduction capabilities of these mammals, they do not take much time to increase in numbers.
• Reproduction capabilities
Armadillos start reproducing at the age of 1 year. They reproduce annually till they reach the age of 15 years. They can reproduce a litter of 4 in one time. On an average a female armadillo can reproduce more than 50 armadillos in her lifespan.
• Diet and adaptation
Armadillos have a broad range of diet. They can feed on insects and worms and in some cases on fungi and seeds. Though they are unable to survive in harsh winter, they adapt well in other types of climate. They also have a protective shell that protects them from becoming a prey. Some predators find it difficult to tear through their hard outer covering. Armadillos can also lodge themselves in burrows when a predator is nearby. It becomes impossible for the predator to then dislodge the armadillo from the burrow.
The above reasons coupled with the fact that armadillos are not a preferred food source of NorthAmericans has helped in the unhindered spread and growth of armadillo population.
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