Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page

3.8 Armadillos

3.8.1 Dasypus novemcinctus (nine-banded armadillo)

The endemic neotropical order of Xenartha or Edentata contains four families of medium-sized or large mammals (622). The anteaters (Fam. Myrmecophagidae), and to a lesser extent the sloths (Fam. Bradybodidae, Megalonychidae) are eaten by some indigenous groups (Table 4). The main game animals among the edentates, however, are the armadillos (Fam. Dasypodidae), representing a total of 20 species, all in Latin America, except Dasypus novemcinctus which is found as far north as the southern United States. Armadillos belonging to the genera Eupharctus, Chaetophractus, Zaedyus, Priodontes, Cabassous and Tylopeutes are hunted for food, some more, some less, and are used in craftwork. The long-nosed species of the genus Dasypus, six in number, are the most in demand.

Dasypus kappleri, known in Brazil as the "15 kg armadillo", inhabits the high primary forests of Amazonia, the Guianas and southern Venezuela, is the longest of all armadillos at a total adult length of 83-106 cm, and weighs 8.5-10.5 kg (624). We infer from the hunting statistics (32, 479) that it is fairly rare. Dasypus hybridus, in Argentina called the "mulita", ranges from Paraguay and southern Brazil to central Argentina. D. sabanicola, the savannah armadillo of the Colombian-Venezuelan llanos, small and weighing at most 2 kg, is found in grassland habitats. D. septemcinctus, ranging from the mouth of the Amazon to southern Brazil and northern Argentina is another small open and/or arid habitat species. They are of local importance for food, and, like other armadillos, are used for experimental purposes in research on leprosy and other diseases (38, 99, 319, 458). The broad geographical and ecological distribution, abundance and size of D. novemcinctus, however, make it the most important armadillo.

3.8.1 Dasypus novemcinctus (nine-banded armadillo)

Local names: Armadillo (Colombia, Mexico, Panama, Trinidad, etc.), armado (Guatemala, Panama), cachicamo (Venezuela), carachupa (Peru), cusuco (Costa Rica), kapasi (Suriname), mulita mayor (Argentina) tatu liso, tatu galinha (Brazil).

Distribution and geographical variation: D. novemcinctus can be found from the southeastern United States to northeastern Argentina and Uruguay, on the eastern side of the Andes including all countries of continental Latin America except Chile, and various islands such as Trinidad and Tobago, Margarita, etc.). A total of six subspecies are recognized, but the only subspecies in continental South America is D. n. novemcinctus (374, 624).

Elevational range: From sea level up to roughly 2 000-3 000 m (66, 245, 238).

Size and weight: Total adult length ranges from 66-100 cm, and 40-47 cm (without the tail), with a weight of 3-6 kg. In general, males are bigger than females (624).

Habitat: D. novemcinctus is found in a great variety of habitats from semi-arid, savannah and brushwood regions to moist tropical and montane forests, and adapts well to modified environments and habitats with secondary vegetation. These armadillos are not present in the páramo or puna, or in desert regions (336, 374, 382, 622).

Abundance: In many regions D. novemcinctus is considered abundant. Population levels of from 5 to 304/km2 are reported from North America (374), 8/km2 on the Panamanian island of Barro Colorado (175), 4/km2 in the moist forest of Guatopo National Park in Venezuela, and 10/km2 in the tree savannah region of Guárico, Venezuela (173). D. novemcinctus comprised 13 percent of the mammals rescued during the damming of the Suriname River (614), and 5.6 percent of those rescued during the damming of the Guri River in Venezuela.

Behaviour: D. novemcinctus is a species of nocturnal and crepuscular habit, solitary, sedentary and probably territorial, occupying home ranges of 1.6-20 ha in North America (374). These armadillos excavate burrows several metres long which they use as dens. The sense of smell is apparently the main one. Usually a slow-moving animal, D. novemcinctus can put on a burst of speed in emergencies, seeking the protection of the den.

Feeding habits: They feed primarily on insects - ants, termites, coleopters, various larvae and other invertebrates, which they detect by rooting amongst the leaf litter or scratching around in the soil. They may also eat berries and other bland foods of plant origin (38, 374, 567, 622).

Reproduction: In the United States armadillos mate in July, followed by a period of delayed implantation until November, with the young being born in March or April. The periodicity and frequency of armadillo reproduction in tropical America is apparently unknown. The mating season for D. sabanicola is timed to coincide with the onset of the rains from May to July (203). The gestation period is 135-150 days (182, 257), this armadillo giving birth to identical and precocious quadruplets which reach sexual maturity in one (27) or two (622) years.

Hunting: Armadillos are mainly hunted at night with lanterns, and often with dogs. Other hunting methods include pulling them out of their dens, trapping them, or simply waiting along one of their trails (32, 42, 98, 99, 258, 336).

Products: Armadillos are frequent in subsistence hunting, representing 6.1 percent of all game animals hunted by indigenous people and 9.5 percent of those hunted by campesinos (Tables 5 and 9). Their white meat is highly prized for human consumption. Often the animal is roasted in the shell and the shell used for hand-crafted products.

Management: D. novemcinctus seems to be fairly tolerant of hunting and of environmental modifications, being proportionately more numerous in anthropogenic than in undisturbed areas. However, the species has been intensely persecuted in many of the areas where low population levels have been recorded (17, 244, 336, 361, 622). Harvesting needs to be regulated, and indeed is in many countries, but enforcement is very difficult in practice, for this is subsistence hunting. There is also a dearth of regional studies on the basic biology of this armadillo species. In Venezuela, the widespread belief that they suffer from leprosy has somewhat dampened their popularity as game animals (447). Cerda and Carrasquel (99) describe their management in biological laboratories for experimental purposes.

Previous Page Top of Page Next Page