The armadillo is an armored mammal related to anteaters and sloths. The peba, or nine-banded armadillo, is found in South and Central America and in Texas, southern Oklahoma, Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi, and parts of Florida. The six-banded armadillo; the three-banded armadillo, or apar; and the giant armadillo are among the South American species. They vary in size from the giant armadillo, which is almost 1 m (about 3 ft) long excluding the tail, to species only about 15 cm (about 6 in) long when fully grown.
The layer of horn (hard material derived from hair) and bony plates that protect the animal against predators is formed by the ossification of the greater part of the skin. In some species even the tail is so protected. In most species except the giant armadillo, the shoulders and rump are each covered by a single large shield, and the middle of the body is covered by transverse bands that are movable and articulated, so that the animal can contract and curl up to cover its unprotected abdomen; the three-banded armadillo can roll itself into a tight ball.
Despite short legs, the armadillo moves relatively quickly, and with its strong feet and thick claws it can burrow with considerable speed. It is nocturnal in habit and feeds on insects and worms and sometimes on carrion. The flesh is palatable and is used for food. Fossil remains of gigantic extinct armadillos have been found in the Pleistocene strata of South America. The survival of several species, including the giant and the three-banded armadillos, is now in doubt because of hunting and encroachment on habitat.
Armadillos make up the family Dasypodidae. The peba is classified as Dasypus novemcinctus, and the six-banded armadillo as Euphractus sexcinctus. Three-banded armadillos make up the genus Tolypeutes. The giant armadillo is classified as Priodontes maximus.