Armadillos have been creeping North in Missouri and their only predators are cars. However, the Department of Conservation says they’re not a threat, and their numbers aren’t expected to get out of control.

They’re odd little creatures, akin to sloths and anteaters. Possum on the half shell, some Missourians like to call them. The nine-banded armadillo has actually been living in the Show-Me State longer than you might think. Debbie Fantz is a resource scientist with the Department of Conservation. She says they started arriving in Southwest Missouri in the late ’70s and early ’80s. One reason they are being spotted farther north this year could be because their numbers in Missouri depends on how harsh the winters are. They didn’t battle an especially brutal this winter this year, so their numbers are likely up for the season.

They don’t have much body fat and they don’t hibernate, Fantz says. The nine-banded armadillo is the only variety in the U.S., 20 others live in Latin America, where people say they taste like pork. However, Fantz says she wouldn’t know. She says she’s dissected a few and has no desire to find out what they taste like.

Armadillos can be a nuicance as they dig in people’s gardens for bugs to eat. Fantz says if that’s a problem, you can call your local Conservation agent, who will come out and help you get rid of the little armored one.

She says they have no problem crossing waterways to get where they want to go. They can either swim across the surface — doggie paddle style — or hold their breath and walk across the bottom. When they need to float, they gulp air into their intestines to make them more buoyant.

AUDIO: Jessica Machetta reports (1:30)

Fun facts

  • Of the 20 varieties of armadillo, all but one live in Latin America. The familiar nine-banded armadillo is the only species that includes the United States in its range.
  • Armadillo is a Spanish word meaning “little armored one” and refers to the bony plates that cover the back, head, legs, and tail of most of these odd looking creatures. Armadillos are the only living mammals that wear such shells.
  • Closely related to anteaters and sloths, armadillos generally have a pointy or shovel-shaped snout and small eyes. They vary widely in size and color, from the 6-inch-long, salmon-colored pink fairy armadillo to the 5-foot-long, dark-brown giant armadillos.
  • Contrary to popular belief, not all armadillos are able to encase themselves in their shells. In fact, only the three-banded armadillo can, curling its head and back feet and contorting its shell into a hard ball that confounds would-be predators. The other types are covered with too many bony plates to allow them to curl up. Other armadillos have to rely on their armored shells for defense while they scuttle away through thick, thorny brush or dig themselves a hole to hide in.
  • Armadillos live in temperate and warm habitats, including rain forests, grasslands, and semi-deserts. Because of their low metabolic rate and lack of fat stores, cold is their enemy, and spates of intemperate weather can wipe out whole populations.
  • Most species dig burrows and sleep prolifically, up to 16 hours per day, foraging in the early morning and evening for beetles, ants, termites, and other insects. They have very poor eyesight, and utilize their keen sense of smell to hunt. Strong legs and huge front claws are used for digging, and long, sticky tongues for extracting ants and termites from their tunnels. In addition to bugs, armadillos eat small vertebrates, plants, and some fruit, as well as the occasional carrion meal.
  • Population numbers of nearly all species are threatened by habitat loss and over-hunting. Many cultures in the Americas consume armadillo flesh, which is said to resemble pork in its flavor and texture. Currently, only the nine-band population is expanding, and some species, including the pink fairy, are threatened.
  • Armadillos always give birth to four identical young — the only mammal known to do so. All four young develop from the same egg — and they even share the same placenta.
  • Armadillos are used in leprosy research because their body temperatures are low enough for them to contract the most virulent form of the disease. So far, only those in Texas — not Florida — have been found to have the disease.
  • Some female armadillos being used for research have given birth to young long after they were captured — up to two years afterwards, in some cases. These “virgin births” are a result of the female’s ability to delay implantation of the fertilized egg during times of stress. This reproductive tactic is one reason why they’re so good at colonizing new areas such as the United States.
  • Armadillo teeth have no enamel and they have very few teeth to begin with — just several peg-like molars. Since they primarily eat insects, they don’t have to do a lot of heavy chewing.
  • Baby armadillos have soft shells, like human fingernails. They get harder as the animal grows, depositing bone under the skin to make a solid shell.
  • According to the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, it is illegal to own an armadillo in the state of Maine. Hawaii has strict regulations against the import of any foreign animal, including armadillos. The state of Montana classifies them as livestock, and regulates their import accordingly.
  • Death by suicide. One reason they’re so vulnerable on the highway is because when they startle, they jump. When the armadillo gets scared, it jumps 3 or 4 feet straight up.  This reflex jump surprises the predator, so the armadillo can sprint away.  But when the scary noise is a car, it makes the armadillo to jump up and hit the bottom of the car. If you see an armadillo crossing the road, drive around it.  Don’t straddle it with your tires or you’ll still hit it with your undercarriage.