Pet Armadillos

Southern three-banded armadillo
Southern three-banded armadillo. Getty Images/Ralph Clevenger

When you think of an armadillo you probably don't think about a pet but they have a following all their own. A few different kinds of armadillos are kept as pets around the country and each has their own unique characteristics.

What Kinds of Armadillos are Kept as Pets?

The most commonly seen type of pet armadillo is the three-banded armadillo. There are both Brazilian and southern types of three-banded armadillos.

The southern variety of this armadillo was once thought to be extinct due to habitat destruction and the pet trade.

The screaming hairy armadillo is another type of armadillo kept as a pet but it is less popular than the three-banded variety. This armadillo goes by several names including the screaming armadillo, the dwarf screaming armadillo (due to it's small size), the crying armadillo, the small screaming armadillo, and the small hairy armadillo. The screaming and crying adjectives are in reference to the noise this armadillo makes when handled or threatened. 

The other type of armadillo that you might happen upon as a pet is the big hairy armadillo, also known as just a hairy armadillo or large hairy armadillo. This is a larger type of armadillo compared to the three-banded and screaming hairy varieties (but still smaller than the nine-banded variety we might see across the United States).

Southern Three-Banded Armadillos

Unfortunately the pet trade is partially to blame for the drastic reduction of this animal in the wild but there are now breeders that will sell you a hand tamed plated pet for a pretty penny. Originally from South America, the three-banded armadillo is the only species of armadillo that can roll into the classic ball that you picture when you think about an armadillo at all.

Other species do not have this ability but they all share the armored plates. These plates are actually made of keratin, the same material that our fingernails are made of, and they protect the small mammals from predators by covering their bellies when they roll up. 

Southern three-banded armadillos have a long, sticky tongue to help them catch their favorite food - insects. In captivity they are also fed fruits and vegetables and encouraged to forage as they do in the wild. Armadillos have a slow metabolism so some people get worried that their pets aren't eating enough but they most likely have a normal appetite. They also don't have many teeth so if they are eating something other than worms and insects it must be soft.

These armadillos grow to be about three pounds in weight making them quite the small pet and they are often found in zoos. They walk on their hind legs, using only their front nails to aid them in balancing and can live over 17 years in captivity.

Screaming Hairy Armadillos

Another small type of armadillo, the screaming hairy armadillo is exactly as it's name implies. It has an abundance of hair that grows from it's keratin plates and makes a squealing or screaming noise when it feels threatened.

These characteristics alone make this one unique pet.

Screaming hairy armadillos weigh less than two and a half pounds when they are full grown and like other armadillos, they enjoy a meal of insects and worms but also prey on lizards, frogs, and a type of plant that is in the pea family. They are nocturnal and like to burrow in multiple places. In the wild they may call over eight acres of land their home so they need a lot of space to roam!

Big Hairy Armadillos

There is no shortage of these armadillos in the wild yet they aren't as popular as pets as the smaller varieties. Big hairy armadillos can live over 30 years in captivity if properly cared for and like their name states they are big and they are hairy. They can grow to be about twice the size as Southern three-banded and screaming hairy armadillos and are in the same genus of hairy armadillos as their screaming cousins so they have the coarse hairs to prove it.

Native to Argentina and surrounding countries, the big hairy armadillo is thought to be a pest in the wild where they live in grasslands, savannas, and even forests. They are burrowers and while they cannot roll into a complete ball like the three-banded variety, they can help to evade predators by pulling their legs under their armor to sit flush on the ground.

Big hairy armadillos are strong front claws used to dig up insects and burrow to make their homes - some of which have multiple tunnels. They are pretty versatile armadillos which is probably why they've done so well surviving in our ever changing world. They have been found living anywhere from sea level up to 4000 feet above sea level and they are primarily nocturnal like other armadillos.

Do Armadillos Make Good Pets?

Regardless of what kind of armadillo you are looking at it isn't prudent to think these make excellent pets. Armadillos are not cuddly ferrets or puppies. They are often active at night, need a lot of room to roam, deep soil to burrow in, and insects to forage. If you don't have a tamed armadillo they can also do some damage to you (or your flooring) with their sharp claws.

Armadillos aren't cheap either. Expect to pay $2000-$3000 for a hand tamed, privately bred baby armadillo. Veterinary care is hard to find for these unique animals and if you live in a climate that experiences winter you'll have to get creative in providing enough room for your pet to roam when they can't go outside. Armadillos are prone to frost bite due to their slow metabolism and it may be hard to notice on an animal that prides itself on keeping it's soft tissue hidden.

If you do decide that you want an armadillo as a pet be sure to check your local laws first and then prepare to make your home fit for a burrowing, insect-eating, eight acre roaming, nocturnal armadillo. They are definitely unique!