Found in parts of the northern highlands of Brazil, including the western part of the province of Bahia, Pernambuco, Piauí, Maranhão, and northern Minas Gerais, the Brazilian three-banded armadillo (Tolypeutes tricinctus) has a head and body length of 218 to 273 mm (8.6 to 10.7 in), a tail length of 60 to 80 mm (2.4 to 3.1 in), and weight from 1.00 to 1.59 kg (2.2 to 3.5 lbs).
Three-banded armadillos are blackish brown in color. Most animals have three moveable bands, although some possess only two, and others may have four. Members of the genus Tolypeutes are the only armadillos that can completely enclose themselves in their own shell by rolling into a ball. The large front and rear portions of the shell are not attached to the skin on the sides, providing ample free space to fit the head, legs and tail into the shell when the animals are rolled up.
The 2nd, 3rd and 4th toes of the hind foot are grown together, almost like a hoof. The 1st and 5th toes remain separate. T. tricinctus has five on the fore foot. The claws on the forefeet are very strong. Three-banded armadillos generally walk on the tips of the foreclaws, even when running. The tail is short and thick. The diploid number of chromosomes is 2n=38, the lowest of any armadillo studied to date — most other armadillos have 2n=50 to 64. (Humans have a diploid chromosome number of 2n=48, for comparison.)
T. tricinctus lives in tropical forests on chalky grounds, and in the Caatinga and Cerrado of Brazil.
When threatened, members of the genus Tolypeutes roll up into ball, leaving only a small opening between the shell edges. If the animal is prodded through the opening, it quickly snaps fully shut like a steel trap. Rolling into a ball appears to be an effective defense against natural enemies.
Three-banded armadillos principally eat beetle larvae, although ants and termites are an important portion of the diet during the dry season (July to November). Insects are obtained by burrowing into ground nests or under the bark of rotting trees. The animals also include a significant amount of fruit in their diet during the wet season.
Three-banded armadillos may be found at densities of up to 7 animals per square kilometer. They are primarily solitary, although groups of up to 12 have been observed sharing the same den site during cold spells.
One young is born per litter; gestation period is about 120 days. Litters are generally born between November and January. The young are born fully formed, resembling miniature adults, and can walk and roll into a ball immediately from birth. Young are weaned at 72 days, and are sexually mature at 9 — 12 months. The IUCN classifies T. tricinctus as vulnerable. T. tricinctus is threatened by habitat destruction. Both species of Tolypeutes seem to be suffering due to overhunting.
- Cardoso da Silva, J.M. and D.C. Oren. 1993. Observations on the habitat and distribution of the Brazilian three-banded armadillo Tolypeutes tricinctus, a threatened Caatinga endemic. Mammalia 57(1): 149-152.
- Fonseca, G.A.B., A.B. Rylands, et al. 1994. Livro vermelho dos mamíferos brasileiros ameaçados de extinção. Fundação Biodiversitas, Belo Horizonte. (Cited in Gomes de Oliveira, 1995).
- Marinho, J., M. Marques Guimarães, et al. 1997. The discovery of the Brazilian three-banded armadillo in the Cerrado of Central Brazil. Edentata 3: 11-13.
- Nowak, R.M. 1999. Walker’s Mammals of the World, 6th edition. Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, MD. 158-168.
- de Oliveira, T.G. 1995. The Brazilian three-banded armadillo Tolypeutes tricinctus in Maranhão. Edentata 2: 18-19.
- Olmos, F. 1995. Edentates in the caatinga of Serra da Capivara National Park. Edentata 2: 16-17.
- Sanborn, C.C. 1930. Distribution and habits of the three-banded armadillo (Tolypeutes). Journal of Mammalogy 11(1): 61-69.
Habitat and Ecology
Life History and Behavior
Lifespan, longevity, and ageing
IUCN Red List Assessment
Red List Category
Red List Criteria
- 2006Vulnerable(IUCN 2006)
- 1994Endangered(Groombridge 1994)
- 1990Indeterminate(IUCN 1990)
- 1988Indeterminate(IUCN Conservation Monitoring Centre 1988)
- 1986Indeterminate(IUCN Conservation Monitoring Centre 1986)
- 1982Indeterminate(Thornback and Jenkins 1982)
Brazilian three-banded armadillo
The Brazilian three-banded armadillo (Tolypeutes tricinctus) is an armadillo species endemic to Brazil, where it is known as tatu-bola (Portuguese pronunciation: [tɐˈtu ˈbɔlɐ], lit. ball armadillo). It is one of only two species of armadillo (the other is the southern three-banded armadillo) that can roll into a ball. It has suffered a 30% decline in population in the last 10 years.
The Brazilian three-banded armadillo lives primarily in open savannahs (Cerrado) and dry woodlands (Caatinga), where low rainfall and poor soil limit the vegetation to tall, woody grasses, scattered bushes, and gnarled trees. There is an abundance of cactus-like plants in the northern reaches of its range.
As its name suggests, the Brazilian three-banded armadillo is indigenous to Brazil, living primarily in the eastern part of the country, just south of the equator. They are rarely seen west of 50°W longitude.
The main staples of its diet are ants and termites, which it can smell through up to 20 centimeters of soil. It finds food by shuffling slowly along with its nose to the ground. When it detects prey, it frantically digs a hole and thrust its nose into it, using its long, sticky tongue to lap up any insects it may find. Other foods include mollusks, worms, fruit, and carrion.
Brazilian three-banded armadillos have a head-and-body length of about 22 to 27 cm (8.7 to 10.6 in) and the tail is between 6 and 8 cm (2.4 and 3.1 in) long. They weigh 1–1.6 kg (2.2–3.5 lb). The armor is composed of ossified dermal scutes covered by nonoverlapping, keratinized epidermal scales, which are connected by flexible bands of skin. This armor covers the back, sides, head, tail, ears, and outside surfaces of the legs. The underside of the body and the inner surfaces of the legs have no armored protection, and are covered instead by long, coarse hair. The genus Tolypeutes, which includes both the Brazilian and southern species of three-banded armadillos, is unique in the ability to roll up in a tight, almost impenetrable ball. This is because their armor is slightly looser than that of other armadillo genera, which allows for greater freedom of movement. The loose armor also creates a layer of air between the shell and the body, which insulates the animal. This higher capacity for thermoregulation allows them to survive in climates too arid for some of the other armadillo species. When the armadillo rolls into a defensive ball, the ears are tucked into the shell and the head and tail interlock to seal the shell completely. The teeth are soft and peg-like, adapted solely for smashing the exoskeletons of insects.
Armadillos are chiefly solitary, but this species will occasionally travel in small family groups of up to three members. They are largely nocturnal, but have been known to forage during the day. All armadillos are spectacular diggers, but unlike most of the other species, three-banded armadillos do not dig in defense or to find shelter. They prefer to rest under bushes, rather than dig burrows, and their ability to roll into a ball makes defensive digging unnecessary. When they are not foraging, they move with a sort of trot, bouncing on the tips of their front toes, while their hind feet slap flatly on the ground. They mark their territories with secretions from glands on their face, feet, and rump. When threatened, they occasionally do not seal their armor completely, but wait until they are touched. They then quickly snap shut in an effort to startle the predator.
The mating season lasts from October to January, during which there is a brief courtship before mating. The female carries the young for a gestation period of 120 days at the end of which single, blind offspring is born. The newborn’s armor is soft, but its claws are fully developed, and it can walk and roll into a ball within hours of birth. The armor hardens by the third or fourth week, around the same time the eyes and earflaps open. The young armadillo is weaned at 10 weeks and reaches sexual maturity at 9–12 months.
The defense system of the Brazilian three-banded armadillo makes it safe from the majority of predators. Adult pumas and jaguars are the only South American mammals powerful enough to be a natural threat. The real danger to armadillos is the destruction of their habitats to make room for livestock.
2014 FIFA World Cup mascot
The Caatinga Association, a Brazilian environmental NGO, launched in January 2012 a national campaign proposing the three-banded armadillo to become mascot of the 2014 FIFA World Cup hosted by Brazil. In March 2012, the Brazilian weekly, Veja, reported the three-banded armadillo would be the official mascot for the FIFA World Cup. Official announcement came in September 2012.
Current petition specifically for the three banded armadillo to be saved: https://www.change.org/petitions/brazilian-minister-of-the-environment-izabella-teixeira-for-the-brazilian-government-to-create-a-natural-reserve-for-the-armadillo
- Miranda, F., Moraes-Barros, N., Superina, M. & Abba, A.M. (2014) Tolypeutes tricinctus. In: IUCN 2014. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2014.1.
- Wildlife Explorer: Three-Banded Armadillo. USA: International Masters Publishers, 1998.
- Armadillo Online: Tolypeutes tricinctus. Retrieved 14 June 2014.
- "Fifa faz registro e confirma tatu-bola como mascote da Copa de 2014". ESPN (in Portuguese). 11 September 2012. Retrieved 11 September 2012.
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