Feeding ecology and diet

Armadillos are primarily insectivores, feeding on adult and larval forms of beetles, ants, and termites. Some species are myrmecophagic while others opportunistically forage on invertebrates, small vertebrates, carrion, and plant material. Some ingest fruit seasonally. Armadillos ingest large amounts of dirt for mammals. It is unknown whether dirt is required for proper digestion or trace minerals or enters the gut incidentally with food.

Armadillos root around in leaf litter and pause periodically perhaps to sense soil-dwelling prey. Once prey is detected, armadillos use their formidable claws to dig rapidly, excavating small conical pits or tearing into ant and termite mounds. Their sticky tongues effectively lap up the scurrying insects. One stomach had more than 40,000 ants present. Armadillos have a very low metabolic rate, which means that they do not waste a lot of energy producing heat. This also means that they are not good at living in cold areas, because they are not efficient at keeping warm. They do not have any fat reserves, so they must forage for food on a daily basis. A few consecutive cold days can be deadly to the animals.

The southern naked-tailed armadillo (Cabassous unicinctus) is smaller than the greater naked-tailed armadillo (Cabassous tatouay) but shares the same nocturnal habits. (Photo by Jany Sauvanet/Photo Researchers, Inc. Reproduced by permission.)

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