The Amazing Armadillos of Nicaragua

Native to the Americas, including Nicaragua, armadillos are fascinating creatures. Classified as mammals, armadillos are characterized by their leathery armored shell which some species use to protect themselves by rolling up into a ball, while others may dig their way into a shallow trench with only their armor exposed. The various species of armadillos range from the giant armadillo (Priodontes maximus) which can grow up to 150cm in length and weigh up to 59 kgs, through to the diminutive pink fairy armadillo (Chlamyphorus truncatus) which reaches a maximum of only 15cm in length.

Having originated in South America, armadillos have spread to Central and North America over the centuries and have been reported as far north as southern Illinois, but they are still most commonly found in their area of origin with Nicaragua’s two main species being the nine-banded armadillo (Dasypus novemcinctus) and the northern naked-tailed armadillo (Cabassous centralis).

As its name would suggest, the nine-banded armadillo has nine distinct bands across its back. As a solitary, primarily nocturnal animal, the nine-banded armadillo has adapted to many different types of habitats where it forages for ants, grubs, beetles, termites, worms and other invertebrates. Because it is so adaptable to its surroundings, the nine-banded armadillo has spread quite far up north since the so-called Great American Interchange during which the Isthmus of Panama joined North and South America more than three million years ago, allowing animals to move between the two continents. Although these armadillos move quite slowly in general, if confronted by a predator they can move with remarkable speed, either trying to flee into thorny thickets where it is protected by its tough exterior, or digging into a trench with only its armor exposed. While natural predators include cougars, coyotes, bears, alligators and large raptors, humans present the most danger to armadillos.

The northern naked-tailed armadillo is far more rare than the nine-banded armadillo. This elusive animal is seldom sighted and information regarding its distribution and habits is sketchy. It seems that this particular species of armadillo prefers undisturbed primary forest, making it vulnerable to habitat loss through deforestation.

So while visiting Nicaragua’s nature reserves be sure to look out for these amazing, adaptable armadillos.