Cingulata – Armadillos

'Little armored ones' in Spanish, are New World's real-life armored Pokémons

Armadillos, those curious inhabitants of the New World, are easily distinguishable by their remarkable bony armor. This armor, a marvel of nature’s engineering, is composed of plates made of keratin—the same material that makes up human hair and nails—interspersed with bands of flexible skin. This distinctive adaptation allows armadillos to roll into a protective ball, a defense mechanism as effective today as it has been throughout their evolutionary history.

The order Cingulata, to which armadillos belong, once included the colossal Glyptodonts. These prehistoric relatives of the armadillo were indeed armadillos of a grander scale, roaming the landscapes of the Americas until their demise at the close of the last ice age. The Glyptodonts’ heavy, full-body armor was a sight to behold, but it was not enough to save them from extinction, which many believe was hastened by early human hunters.

The ability to swim is another feather in the evolutionary cap of the armadillo. With their lungs filled with air, they can float across water bodies or, if needed, sink and walk along the riverbed to reach the other side. This aptitude for swimming pairs well with their exceptional digging abilities. With powerful claws designed to excavate, armadillos can burrow into the earth in pursuit of insects or craft a den, a task they undertake with surprising speed and efficiency.

Their diet is primarily insectivorous, with a particular penchant for ants and termites. Their keen sense of smell compensates for their poor eyesight, guiding them to food sources beneath the ground. The long, sticky tongue of an armadillo is perfectly designed to lap up its prey, making it a formidable insectivore.

Today, armadillos are not just an object of scientific curiosity but also a symbol of the delicate balance between species and their environment. While some species thrive and expand their range, others, like the pink fairy armadillo, find themselves on the brink, their survival threatened by habitat destruction and climate change.