Feeding And Defense
Armadillos are predominantly nocturnal in their foraging habits and their teeth dictate their diet. Those with sturdy teeth eat insects, snails, worms, small lizards, carrion, tubers, and fruits. Those with soft teeth eat primarily insects such as ants and termites. Using their long, sticky tongue to remove insects from their nests, they have been observed to eat as many as 40,000 ants at one feeding. It is estimated that a single armadillo can eat 200 lb (90 kg) of insects in a year.
A keen sense of smell helps the armadillo locate prey as much as 6 in (10 cm) underground. Pressing its nose to the ground to keep the scent and holding its breath to avoid inhaling dust, the armadillo digs into the soil and litter with astonishing speed.
Armadillos also defend themselves by burrowing into the earth, disappearing completely in a few minutes. Once dug in, they expand their bony shell and wedge themselves into the burrow. They can also run surprisingly fast and, if cornered, will use their claws to fight. Once a predator catches an armadillo it must deal with its bony armor. The three-banded armadillo can roll up into a tight ball presenting nothing but armor to its enemies. Their armor also protects them from cactus spines and dense, thorny undergrowth.
While some species of armadillo are hunted by humans in Central and South America for their meat, the greatest danger to armadillos in the United States is the automobile. Dozens of armadillos are run down as they wander onto highways at dusk. Their habit of leaping several feet into the air when startled contributes to many of the automobile-related deaths.
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