Our New Neighbors

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Published on: Nov. 2, 2007

Last revision: Dec. 6, 2010

“What was the that?” You might exclaim, when you see a ’possum-sized, scaly-looking creature shoot across a Missouri highway.

“What happened here?” You might wonder when you wake one morning and find your lawn transformed into a series of holes and dirt piles.

Although many of our wild creatures have a long history in Missouri, armadillos have only recently arrived. They’re here because they find parts of our state suitable for living, and they’re not likely to leave. If we’re going to host these new neighbors, we’d better learn as much about them as we can.


Nine-banded armadillos (Dasypus novemcinctus) are unique and interesting critters. The animals weigh from 2 to 20 pounds, have short legs, big ears and a ringed tail almost as long as their body.

They get their name from a hard protective covering that contains usually nine moveable bands between the shoulder and hip shields.

Their head is covered with a large immovable shield, and their tail is covered with a series of 12 overlapping rings. Small scales cover their legs, and only their ears and underbelly have exposed soft skin.

Armadillos have four stout claws on their front feet and five on the hind feet. Hairs protrude from their scaly armor and sparsely cover their belly.


The armadillo’s general lack of hair combined with its low body fat content make it ill-equipped to handle extended periods of severely cold weather, which may limit the northward range of the species.

Armadillos can be found from Texas, along the southern tier states to Florida, South Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, and northward into Arkansas, Oklahoma and southern Kansas. Confirmed sightings have come from as far north as southern Illinois and Indiana.

Armadillos first began to appear in the south and southwest portions of Missouri in the mid-1970s to early 1980s. Since then, they have extended northward into practically every county south of the Missouri River, and there have been a few sightings north of the river.

Habits and Reproduction

In the summer, armadillos are most active from twilight through the early morning hours. In winter they are only active during the day when temperatures rise.

They may have several burrows within their territory for protection and raising young. These burrows are usually 7 or 8 inches in diameter and up to 15 feet long. They can be found in rock piles, brush piles, around stumps or under sidewalks and patios.

Breeding generally occurs in the summer, but pregnancy is delayed for about five

These scaly, armored mammals are moving northward. Learn more about armadillos in Missouri by downloading the .pdf version of the Missouri Conservationist article.

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