Armadillos are small omnivorous mammals with a hard, leathery shell. Although armadillos are not difficult to care for, and some people find them to be pleasant and exotic pets, you should consider carefully before adding any wild creature to your household. Armadillos are also kept in captivity for use in scientific and medical research, especially in the study of leprosy. In some parts of the world they are raised for their meat, which is said to resemble fine-grained pork.
Twenty distinct species of armadillos exist, but only one--the three-banded armadillo, a native of Brazil--can roll itself into a ball to escape predators. However, the "armor plating" on the animal's body is an effective defence, regardless of the armadillo's position. Armadillos are not blind, although their eyesight is poor. However, this is made up for by their excellent hearing and sense of smell. Although female armadillos are said to sometimes reproduce without the benefit of a male, this is not the case; instead, female armadillos that are under stress are able to delay the growth of a fertilised egg for up to two years.
Aside from their unsuitability as a pet for most people, there are two very serious problems with keeping a pet armadillo in the United States. The first is that keeping this animal in captivity without a permit is illegal in many parts of the country. Permits to keep armadillos are not typically issued to prospective pet owners. Check with your local wildlife department for information on the legal status of pet armadillos in your area. Armadillos occasionally carry leprosy; humans have rarely been infected with this disease after handling live armadillos.
Armadillos often seem to be appealing pets to those interested in owning an unusual animal. However, they are wild animals that exhibit behaviours more appropriate to their natural environment than to a person's household. Armadillos dig and forage extensively, which can destroy lawns, gardens and landscaping. Wild armadillos are often considered pests for this reason. They are also nocturnal, and are typically awake for only four hours each night. This means that a pet armadillo's owner can expect to be woken repeatedly during the night by the sound of the armadillo rooting in dustbins, knocking over lamps and furniture, and causing substantial damage. These animals also have a strong musky odour that most people consider unpleasant, and usually carry fleas.
The most well-known armadillo is undoubtedly the nine-banded armadillo. It is commonly found in the Southwestern United States but is rarely seen alive. This species has a very unusual reproductive system; they always give birth to genetically identical quadruplets that share the same placenta. Brazil's three-banded armadillo is thought of as the classic armadillo, in that it has the characteristic appearance associated with armadillos and unlike other examples of the genus, rolls itself into a ball when threatened. The smallest and most unusual-appearing armadillo is the pink fairy armadillo; it resembles a mole with pink plating only on the back, and is less than six inches long, tail included.
Twenty species of armadillos exist; all are native to the Americas but only the nine-banded armadillo lives wild in the United States. The nine-banded armadillo makes its home in southern states with warm climates, as well as in portions of Mexico. This species was not found north of the Rio Grande until the 1850s; since then, its territory has gradually expanded as far north as central Missouri. Most other species of armadillos are found only in South America, but the Northern naked-tail armadillo is also found in Central America. Because of the armadillo's low body temperature and lack of insulating fur, it does poorly in cool climates.