Nine-banded Armadillo Recovers from Drowning Incident

provided by Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife

Armadillos, sloths, and anteaters make up the superorder Xenarthra. These animals first evolved around fifty million years ago in what we now call South America! They have quite hard, bony exteriors which has lead people to refer to them as “living dinosaurs”. More recent studies confirm armadillos are related to glyptodonts which were giant, armored mammals who went extinct in the Americas at the end of the last ice age.

The exterior of an armadillo has been rumored to be “bulletproof”; however, that is far from true. Their tough exterior is still part of their body hosting nerve endings and blood vessels that feel pain just like any other creature. Their shells are actually made of bony plates called osteoderms that grow in the skin. The shell is there to protect the armadillo from thorny shrubs and predator attacks.

Approximately 20 different species of armadillo exist but only the nine-banded armadillo is found in the United States. The three-banded armadillos are they only ones who can roll themselves into protective spherical ball shapes. Despite their name, nine-banded armadillos can have anywhere between seven to eleven bands on their backs. They are found primarily in the southeastern United States, but over the past hundred years their range has been expanding westward and northward. They prefer warm, wet climates and, with rising temperatures due to climate change, studies predict their range will continue to expand.

Interestingly enough, when our nine-banded armadillo ambassador, Billy, came to us in 2017 armadillos were considered non-native in Florida and therefore could not be released back into the wild. They were later found to have no negative impacts on the native flora or fauna in Florida and have since been naturalized. Nine-banded armadillos always give birth to identical quadruplets. They are nocturnal animals who spend most of their time digging burrows and searching out food. Other animals such as pine snakes, rabbits, opossums, mink, cotton rats, striped skunks, burrowing owls, and eastern indigo snakes utilize their abandoned burrows as sanctuary. Armadillos use their excellent sense of smell to track down over 500 different foods like invertebrates such as beetles, cockroaches, wasps, yellow jackets, fire ants, scorpions, spiders, snails, and more! They will also make a meal of small reptiles and amphibians, eggs, fruit, seeds, fungi, and other plants.

Nine-banded armadillos have some interesting and amazing capabilities! They can jump straight up into the air when they are startled, sometimes at heights up to five to six feet! Armadillos are commonly vilified for their potential to carry Hansen’s disease, also known as leprosy. They were found to be great test subjects and were infected with it purposely in an effort to study the disease. Thankfully, over 95 percent of all people have a natural immunity to the disease and only some armadillos have the potential to transmit it. Even if someone were to contract Hansen’s disease, thanks to modern medicine it can be easily cured with a simple steroid. All the more reason to not handle wild animals, but overall, infection of Hansen’s disease (leprosy) in the United States is incredibly low.

Armadillos are also incredible swimmers when they need to be and have a strong doggy paddle. In fact, they will decide to swim across larger bodies of water. When it comes to streams, rivers, lakes, and ponds, armadillos can hold their breath for over six minutes while they walk underwater along the bottoms to reach the other side.

On October 7, an adult female nine-banded armadillo (#21-5229) was admitted from Fort Myers Beach after she was found rolling in the water next to a boat. When she arrived at the clinic, veterinarians noted they could hear crackles in her breathing indicating she could have inhaled (aspirated) salt water. Veterinarians suspect she could have been drowning in the strong current. Radiographs showed inflamed alveoli in the lungs and gas in the intestinal tract. She was given antibiotics, fluids, and supportive medications. Her respiratory crackles improved and she was moved outside to a larger enclosure. Last Wednesday, due to her high stress levels and respiratory improvement, she was cleared for release! She was released on Fort Myers Beach near the Matanzas Pass Preserve.

THIS WEEK AT CROW (10/1-10/15):
There were 200 new patients admitted to CROW’s Wildlife Hospital including 37 eastern cottontails, 25 eastern gray squirrels, five eastern screech owls, 13 northern raccoons, three southern flying squirrels, four red-eyed vireos, an eastern glass lizard, and two American kestrels. Recent Releases include three eastern cottontails, a northern yellow bat, a black-and-white warbler, a common yellowthroat, a nin-banded armadillo, a Florida red-bellied cooter, and a brown pelican. Check out a full list of CROW’s current patients and recent releases!

Wildlife doesn’t have health insurance! Your donations help cover the costs of medical and rehabilitative care for over 5,000 patients admitted to CROW’s Wildlife Hospital each year!

Want to learn more about wildlife rehabilitation? Stop by CROW’s Visitor Education Center at 3883 Sanibel Captiva Road.

About Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife (CROW)
Established in 1968, the Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife (CROW) is a teaching hospital saving the sick, injured and orphaned native and migratory wildlife of Southwest Florida and beyond.  Through state-of-the-art veterinary care, public education programs and an engaging visitor center, CROW works to improve the health of the environment, humans and our animals through wildlife medicine. For more information, or to plan your visit, go to If you find an animal that is in need of help, call (239) 472-3644 ext. #222.

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