If you're ever out wandering the desert roadside amongst the cactuses, you should keep your eyes open for a peculiar animal. About the size of a small dog, he might look like he's ready to do battle. What are we talking about? The armadillo, of course!

Just ask anyone who's ever seen an armadillo. They're odd-looking creatures for sure. Why? Their heads, backs, legs and tails are covered with bony plates that look a bit like armor.

In fact, that's how they got their name. Armadillo comes from a Spanish word that means “little armored one." Armadillos are the only mammals in the world that have such body armor.

There are approximately 20 different types of armadillos in the world. Although armadillos are commonly associated with the warm, desert areas of the Southwestern United States, almost all armadillo varieties live in Latin America. Only one — the famous nine-banded armadillo — lives in the U.S.

Although their bony exteriors may make them seem like long-lost relatives of turtles, armadillos are actually closely related to anteaters and sloths. They come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes and colors.

The smallest armadillos might reach only six inches long, while giant armadillos can reach five feet or more. Common armadillo colors range from pink and dark brown to black, gray, yellow and red!

The armadillo's hard-shelled exterior can help protect it from predators. The three-banded armadillo can even tuck in its head and tail to form a hard ball that will defeat most any predator that tries to attack.

Armadillos hate cold weather. That explains why you'll find them in warm habitats, including deserts, temperate grasslands and rainforests. Armadillos tend to dig burrows in the ground and sleep about 16 hours each day.

They wake up to forage for food in the early morning and early evening. Their diet includes mainly insects, such as beetles, termites and ants. Their eyes don't work very well, so they usually rely on their noses to find food.

Their poor eyesight might also help to explain another armadillo phenomenon: in the Southwestern United States, they often wander onto highways where they are run over by cars on a regular basis. This sad state of affairs has earned the nine-banded armadillo the dubious nickname “hillbilly speed bump"!

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