Latin Name Tolypeutes matacus Order: Edentata or Xenarthra Family: Dasypodidae
The unique look of these mammals, as well as many interesting facts about this species, makes the Southern Three-Banded Armadillo a good addition to an education team. When hormonal behavior is presented, staff must take into consideration that the armadillo might not be willing to sit still during handling.
Natural History Information
Range and Habitat
Three-banded armadillos are native to central and eastern Bolivia, the Mato Grasso of central Brazil, the Chaco region of Paraguay, and northern and central Argentina. They are found in grassy or marshy habitats between scattered forestland.
Three-banded armadillos can live 15 to 20 years.
Southern three banded-armadillos eat termites and ants, which helps control those insect populations. They are also prey to larger cats such as jaguars and pumas, as well alligators.
Life Cycle Natural History Relevant Information
- Depending on the season, three-banded armadillos can be either crepuscular or diurnal.
- Southern three-banded armadillos reach sexual maturity between 9-12 months old. Young are born generally between November- January. Females give birth to a single young that is born blind, but after 72 days they are no longer dependent on their mother.
- Philadelphia Zoo housed a 3-banded armadillo in a stock tank with a custom built lid and in a walk-in corners style enclosure 5’x8′.
- Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium houses a male in a 6′ X 8′ enclosure. It is a concrete floor covered with thin rubber matting.
- The Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium currently houses a female in a large stock tub with rounded sides. Plastic tubs and PVC tubes are offered as hide boxes. In addition, we have a breeding pair in a much larger tub with multiple hide boxes and tubes.
Temperature, Humidity, Light Cycles
- Philadelphia Zoo provides a heat lamp and two hide locations, one near the heat supplement end, the other near the cool end.
- The Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium The entire room is on a supplemental heat system to increase temperatures. Humidity:
- Akron Zoo: The armadillo is approved for outdoor usage between 65-85F. Normal habitat temperature stays between 72-75F.
- Light: Akron Zoo: General room lighting.
- Plenty of floor space is good for this species that likes to spend time exploring and digging, especially at night.
- Philadelphia Zoo Mulch or mulch mixed with wood chips are provided as substrate.
- Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium provides a large vari-kennel bottom bedded with Care Fresh. This is a low-dust bedding and works well. Timothy hay is also provided for bedding.
- The Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium provides a thick layer of aspen bedding is offered for substrate.
- Akron Zoo: the southern-three banded armadillo is provided a thick layer of mulch that allows the animal to burrow. It is spot cleaned everyday picking up debris, old food, and old substrate/enrichment (i.e. newspaper). It is deep cleaned once a week where the mulch is turned and misted to prevent habitat from becoming really dusty. Mulch is stripped and replaced twice a year.
Social Housing/Colony Management
- Behavioral/Breeding natural history information here
- Note how this species may be socially housed at your facility, how unique identifiers are used to differentiate individuals (where necessary), if they are housed in same sex or mixed sex groups, mixed age groups or multi-generational groups, with conspecifics only, in interspecific setups, etc. Note space requirements for social housing compared to singly-housed animals.
Other General Housing Requirements or Management information
Diet in the Wild
- In the wild, armadillos eat ground-dwelling insects such as beetles, ants, and termites. They may also eat fruit.
Diet under human care
- Philadelphia Zoo Anteater Premix, K-Sol, Mazuri insectivore chow, waxworms, and mealworms.
- Pittsburgh Zoo dry cat food, canned dog food, chopped apple or pear, sweet potato, carrot, hard boiled egg, and mealworms/superworms.
- Akron Zoo: daily diet includes 61g of insectivore pellets, 18g of cooked sweet potato, and 2g of insects dusted with calcium powder. Novelty food enrichment can consist of insects not normally given (i.e. earthworms and roaches).
- Note any high value items used for enrichment or training
- Scales – At Philadelphia Zoo, we have had occasional issues with a scale popping off. It is usually treated with ointment and monitored by the vets. There have also been several instances where this individual armadillo would show signs of being itchy (rolling over on back and scratching at belly), that were resolved with an ivermectin treatment.
- Fungal infections – At the Pittsburgh Zoo, we had an issue of with a fungal infection on one of our females. A small white patch appeared and was treated with anti-fungal ointment. The white patch later fell off, leaving a small divot in the remaining shell.
- Cracking/Bleeding feet – Some facilities have reported their feet cracking and bleeding. This has been resolved by maintaining high humidity (70%), running a humidifier, hosing floors, turning off fans (if possible), and using mulch bedding (which holds and helps maintain the humidity better than other substrates).
Enrichment & Training
Behavioral Relevant Information
- This species does not appear to dig its own burrows, instead using abandoned anteater burrows.
- Akron Zoo: interacts well with other types of substrate (i.e. hay, newspaper).
- Akron Zoo: the southern three-banded armadillo gets enriched three times a week with enrichment rotating through behavior based categories including forage/ item manipulation, exploration/ investigation, rest, and social/ human interaction.
Other Enrichment Resources
- Akron Zoo: Outdoor enrichment temperatures: 65-85F.
- Note any behaviors this species is trained for, both for husbandry, crating/transport, or for programming.
- Can the public participate in any trained behaviors?
- Akron Zoo: our armadillo is tolerant of being handled and kenneled but does not have any behaviors on cue.
Reinforcers used & schedule of reinforcement
- Are reinforcers used only while shaping the behavior? Are they used/delivered during programming?
Colony or Breeding Management
- Females are able to delay the implantation of a fertilized egg for up to two years. Births occur between October and January, after a gestation period of 120 days. A single young is born at a time. Young are born blind, but they can walk and fully close their shells within hours of their birth.
- Dimorphism or practiced ways to individually mark species (such as those in colonies, like giant millipedes).
- The head plate for the armadillos is unique in which no two plates look the same, similar to fingerprints in humans.
- Armadillo educational materials, including coloring pages and mazes that nicely accompany armadillo encounters, are available from the Pantanal Giant Armadillo Project
- Anti predator behavior and adaptations
- South American mammals
- Akron Zoo: programs our southern three-banded armadillo can participate in include:
- “Feathers, Furs, and Scales”- comparing different types of animals
- “What’s for Dinner”- about the food web
- “Bust a Move”- the unique ways animals move
- “Care for a Critter”- all the things animals need to survive and thrive at the zoo
Threats and Conservation Status
- Climate change: Desert and Dryland species have specific adaptations for the temperature and water availability in their natural habitat and may not be able to adjust to the drying effects of climate change. Hotter conditions promote wildfires. More extreme drought conditions kill plants that hold the soil in place and occasional extreme rain events wash that soil away preventing them from growing back in a process called desertification. Greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuels contributes to climate change by trapping heat in the atmosphere. Please ask guests to walk, bike, or take public transportation when possible and to reduce their use of fossil fuels when they do drive by buying a fuel economic car, carpooling, combining errands, and keeping vehicles properly tuned up and their tires properly inflated. At home and work, purchase Energy Star appliances, turn off lights when they are not in use, and use heaters and air conditioners sparingly. The principles of reduce, reuse, and recycle will also help by decreasing greenhouse gas emissions involved with the manufacture and disposal of unnecessary goods.
- The three-banded armadillo is designated as near threatened by the IUCN. This species seems to be suffering due to overhunting, and its habitat is threatened by agricultural development, cutting for charcoal, and mining for underlying calcareous deposits.
- Common predators include jaguars, pumas, and humans.
Interesting Natural History Information
- The word “armadillo” translates to “little armored one” in Spanish.
- The three-banded armadillo is the only armadillo that can completely enclose itself by rolling into a ball.
- Armadillos are the last living mammals to have a shell.
- The southern three-banded armadillo gets its name by the number of bands on their shell.
Did you know…
- When burrowing, three-banded armadillos can stop breathing for up to 6 minutes by storing air in the trachea and wide bronchus.
- Southern three-banded armadillos walk on the tips of their foreclaws. Their foreclaws are very strong and used for digging. On their forefeet they have four toes, and on their hind-feet the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th are fused together leaving the 1st and 5th toes separate.
- Southern three-banded armadillos can swim. Their shell is not attached to the sides of their bodies so they can fill those gaps with air and float across a river, or fill those gaps with water and sink to the bottom of the river to walk across it.
- Armadillos have a low metabolic rate which allows for them not to waste a lot of energy producing heat. They do not have fat reserves so they are not efficient at keeping warm and must forage for food daily to survive.
- Armadillos are the only animals that can transmit leprosy, and are used in studies to come up with vaccines.
Handling & Presentation Tips
- Armadillos are not comfortable being off the ground, so when training and presenting this species, try approaches that allow for presentation on a solid surface (carts, tables, or the ground) or provide adequate support when holding the animal so it can relax. Use caution with tables as the armadillo may not perceive the edge well and run off of it.
- Using bins filled with items to root through is a good way to display a natural behavior for this species.
- Keep in mind that this species is often considered easy to handle because they curl up in a ball. While it is tempting to use this response to allow easy handling, remember this is an antipredator response. General handling should not rely on this response and attempts should be made to acclimate the animal to handling using positive reinforcement so that a chronic stressed condition is not caused.
- Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium presents their armadillo in several ways.
- For programs he is often displayed in a child’s wading pool (the high wall variety) lined on the bottom with astroturf.
- On Close Encounters he is allowed to run freely in a large grassy area. This works extremely well as the running and rooting appear to be highly enriching.
- He is periodically lifted up for guests to touch on the back. After shows, he is brought out to a small dirt digging area at the front of the stage so people can see him closely.
- Fresno Chaffee Zoo they present by having the kids in a classroom sit in a circle on the floor and the armadillo is placed in the center on a tarp and can run around. The only special considerations are when handling are to not get fingers trapped if they curl up when holding them, and when placed in the carrier, make sure they are safe from rolling around while in transit.
- Oregon Zoo staff have noted that male animals that have been in breeding situations have a tendency to try to grab things that are armadillo sized to attempt mating which can make handling for programs challenging. This particular problem was solved by presenting this animal in a clear plastic carrier with a few mealworms. Then program attendees can safely touch the animal on the back.
- Akron Zoo: Southern three-banded armadillo is available for Zoomobile programs, On-site programs, and Meet & Greets/Animal Encounters. The animal is limited to 5 programs a week and must not exceed that limit in order to allow the animal time to rest. Monitor for signs of stress such as decreased diet consumption, shaking, shivering, and growling. During menstruation cycle, the animal will not curl up into a ball, but rather stay stretched out in a frozen position or raise back end with feet out.
Pubic Contact and Interaction Guidelines
- Some institutions do allow guests to touch armadillos.
- Nashville Zoo notes that their armadillo will generally roll up when touched, which is a sign of stress. Therefore, they only allow contact when the groups are very small, to minimize the stress.
- Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium will lift their armadillo periodically for touching during close encounters.
- Fresno Chaffee Zoo they present by having the kids in a classroom sit in a circle on the floor and the armadillo is placed in the center on a tarp and can run around. Kids can touch the armadillo on the back and staff toss out mealworms for the armadillo to hunt. They allow public contact but must use hand sanitizer or wash hands immediately after touching.
- Akron Zoo: “sandwich” kennel lined with newspaper for when outdoor temperatures are 65F and above. When outdoor temperatures are 65F and below, a cooler lined with newspaper is used. A heat disc is also microwaved for 2 minutes then wrapped in newspaper and placed in the cooler. When the outdoor temperatures are 65F and above, a kennel cover is brought to cover the animal when transporting the animal into and out of a program. When the outdoor temperatures are 65F and below use a kennel cover throughout transportation.
- Fresno Chaffee Zoo if they curl up when placed in the carrier, make sure they are safe from rolling around while in transit.
- Akron Zoo: Additional newspaper is added to the kennel and cooler to allow the animal to shred the paper and nest to prevent the animal from rolling in the carrier. A heat disc, microwaved for 2 minutes and wrapped in newspaper, is placed in their assigned cooler when outdoor temperatures are 65F and below. Armadillo is gently picked up and placed in either the kennel or cooler for program use.
- What temperature ranges can this animal be used outdoors? Any restrictions for travel that are temperature specific? How long can they be used at each temperature?
- Akron Zoo: Outdoor Usage Temperatures: 65-85F.
With over 150 animals in over 60 North American institutions, the three-banded armadillo is the most common armadillo held in zoos. It has been bred successfully in several zoos in the US.
There is a SSP program for this species but it can still be difficult to acquire surplus animals since the goal is to grow this population so retention of animals for breeding situations has priority. Cincinnati Zoo and Fresno Chaffee Zoo have produced surplus animals specifically for program purposes in the past, and they may continue to do so, but institutions interested in acquiring a three-banded armadillo should contact the SSP to be added to the waiting list. Click here for SSP contact information.
- Check out sample animal policies, handling sheets, and fact sheets on our Example Policies & Guidelines page
Contributors and Citations
- The Philadelphia Zoo
- AZA Program Animal Listserv
- Fresno Chaffee Zoo
- Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium
- Houston Zoo, Natural Encounters
Comments from the Rating System
- Houston Zoo: Rated as “good” rather than “excellent” only because ours “times out” and shows signs of stress, sometimes after only a few minutes.
Top Photo Credit:
By Southern_Three_Banded_Armadillo_001.jpg: Ltshears derivative work: MAURILBERT (discuter) (Southern_Three_Banded_Armadillo_001.jpg) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0), via Wikimedia Commons