In North America, armadillo eating habits have traditionally only been the concern of residents of the southern United States, who know the nine-banded armadillo well as a digging garden pest. But the geographic range of the armadillo is expanding, with sightings as far north as Illinois and as far west as Colorado. With this, the tough-shelled mammal's feeding behaviors are sure to gain wider attention.
Armadillos are opportunistic foragers that feed on a daily basis. A study in which the stomach contents of Texas armadillos were examined, revealed a standard diet of beetles, caterpillars and other insect larvae, centipedes, millipedes, pill bugs, vegetable matter such as fruit, nuts and seeds and the occasional small amphibian or reptile. Another study found that Louisiana armadillos had similar eating habits, but the ratios of foods differed, suggesting that armadillos eat what's available. However, since the bulk of an armadillo's diet is insect, they are classified as insectivores.
Strong legs and long sharp claws are the armadillo's primary tools for foraging. The armadillo digs in the soil for insects, larvae and other soft bodied creatures. The armadillo's eyesight is poor, so it senses food through hearing and smell. A long sticky tongue similar to that of one of its closest relatives, the ant eater, picks up food easily. An armadillos teeth comprise just a few molars for light chewing.
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Because of the armadillo's low body fat, it needs regularly available food and a warm climate. Researchers who've studied biogeographic range of nine banded armadillos speculate that the armadillo's adaptable opportunistic feeding behaviors make all temperate to subtropical geographic regions with at least 15 inches annual rainfall a potential habitat for the nine banded armadillo.
Orphaned or injured armadillos may be encountered in areas where the animals are common, especially near highways. But for the amateur, attempting to rescue a wild animal can be dangerous, and in some localities, illegal. The safe alternative is to alert a local wild life rescue agency. Wildlife experts may feed baby armadillos kitten formula. Young and adult armadillos may be fed moist cat food. Supplementation with grubs, insects, fruit and seeds provides additional nutritional benefit.
The armadillo is the only known predator of fire ants in North America. The same efficient digging habits that make the armadillo destructive to gardens and crops also make it effective at burrowing into a fire ant nest. Because of this, some scientists hope that armadillos and phorid flies, which also feed on fire ants, might be used together to control the spread of fire ants in the southern United States.