What do armadillos eat? Although armadillos are known to prefer insects, all 20 armadillo species are omnivores, eating both vegetation and other animals! Seemingly half turtle, half possum, with their bony shell-like exteriors and long thin tails, armadillos are actually mammals in every other respect. Today we’ll share what armadillos eat in the wild and armadillo nutrition as pets. And although armadillos don’t often make good (or legal!) pets, you will also learn what wildlife rehabilitators typically feed to ill, injured or orphaned rescued armadillos too.
About Armadillos A Quick Overview
- Kingdom: Animalia (armadillos are classified as animals)
- Phylum: Chordata (armadillos have a notochord or backbone)
- Class: Mammalia (armadillos are endomorphs – warm-blooded mammals)
- Superorder: Xenarthra (armadillos are related to sloths and anteaters)
- Order: Cingulata (armadillos have exterior armor and birth live placental young)
- Family: Daysipodidae (this is the formal name for the armadillo family)
- Number of Species: 20 documented species of extant (surviving) armadillo species
- Biggest extinct armadillo species: Glyptodonts were the size of a small car!
- Biggest extant armadillo species: Giant armadillo
- Smallest extant armadillo species: Pink fairy armadillo
- North American armadillo species: nine-banded armadillo
- Armadillo diet: omnivorous (like people)
- Armadillo weight: between 3 oz. and 120 pounds
What Do Armadillos Eat?
If you were able to talk with an armadillo and ask what they like to eat, you would undoubtedly hear, “Insects!” Armadillos love to eat insects and similar protein-rich snacks, which make up an estimated 90 percent of their year-round diet.
However, as opportunistic omnivores, armadillos are also willing to eat lots of other types of food to get the range of nutrients their bodies need. But with their poor eyesight and even poorer hearing, you might also wonder how armadillos find the insects and other foods they love to eat.
Interestingly, armadillos only need three tools to find insects and other tasty morsels: their keen sense of smell, their long sticky tongues and the long, sharp digging claws on their forepaws.
What Do Armadillos Eat In The Wild?
There are more than 20 documented armadillo species in the world today. Averaging just 3.5 ounces, the smallest armadillo in the world weighs less than a smartphone. Contrast that with the largest armadillo in the world which weighs in at a whopping 120 pounds!
Yet all wild armadillos eat basically the same type of diet depending on what food sources might be available seasonally in their respective native geographic zones.
Because wild armadillos have very simple teeth and they lack specialized teeth like molars for grinding and incisors for piercing, they need to eat primarily soft foods that are easy to chew, swallow and digest.
The three major categories of food that armadillos prefer include insects, small invertebrate animals and plants.
Insects armadillos love to eat:
- Ants (including fire ants!)
- White grubs
- Wireworms and earthworms
- Moth and butterfly larvae, pupae and adult insects
- Wax worms and mealworms
- Snails and slugs
Small animals armadillos love to eat:
- Small snakes
- Newborn rabbits and birds
- Eggs of other animals such as quail and sea turtles
- Carrion and roadkill
Plants armadillos love to eat:
- Bark (probably to get at insects hiding underneath)
- Saw palmetto
- Seasonal berries
- Leaves and leaf molds
- Mushrooms and other fungi
- Plant roots and tubers
What Do Armadillos Eat In Captivity?
Armadillos are found only in North and South America. And North America only has one native armadillo species – the nine-banded armadillo. Yet in areas where armadillos live alongside humans, they are increasingly struggling to survive.
Many armadillos are struck and killed by cars, leaving behind orphaned young. Adults that are injured may also come into the care of a local wildlife rescue and rehabilitation center.
While it is illegal to keep an armadillo without a special permit, you may come across an armadillo that you need to transport to a wildlife center for special care. In this case, it can be helpful to know what foods you can feed to rescued armadillo babies and adults.
The best foods to feed to rescued adult armadillos are small invertebrates like grubs, slugs, snails and earthworms or mealworms, which are often available through commercial pet stores. Baby armadillos need highly specialized care, which we will cover in a further section here.
What Are Safe Foods for Armadillos?
Armadillos eat a wild diet based on what they are able to find by making use of their keen sense of smell, long sticky tongue and powerful digging claws.
However, armadillos being rehabilitated can and do eat a wide variety of other foods with similar nutritional properties. These foods are safe to feed to armadillos in a captive situation.
- Deboned cooked fish or sardines
- Cooked or raw eggs
- Moistened cat or dog kibble
- Wet or moist cat or dog food
- Soft fruits like bananas or small berries
- Soft tubers and vegetables like pumpkin, potato and squash
What Should Armadillos Not Eat?
As opportunistic omnivores, armadillos are definitely not picky about their diets! Insects, fruits, plants, vegetables, even roadkill and carrion – it’s all on the wild armadillo’s menu.
However, for ill or injured armadillos who are undergoing rehabilitation, it is important to remember these animals don’t have specialized teeth to crush, shred, pierce or mince their food.
Deboning meat and fish and chopping up raw fruits and vegetables can reduce choking risk and make meals easier to eat and digest.
How Much Do Armadillos Eat?
As you learned earlier, armadillos come in so many shapes and sizes. Because of these two factors, it is hard to determine what a “typical” daily portion size might look like for a wild armadillo.
The tiniest armadillo is only about the size and weight of a flip phone! The largest armadillo weighs as much as some people. To further complicate answering this question, all wild armadillos are opportunistic in their feeding behaviors.
This means if they are out foraging and find a great food source like a large roadkill or a huge termite mound, they will typically try to eat as much of it as they can all at once. This gorging behavior can help armadillos survive lean times.
What Do Armadillos Eat As Babies?
Armadillo babies are called pups. The sole North American armadillo species, the nine-banded armadillo, always gives birth to quadruplets – four identical babies that come from the same egg.
Mother armadillos dig burrows where they birth their babies and care for them. The first two to three weeks or months (depending on the armadillo species) are the most critical for the newborn pups. During this time, a pup’s sole source of nourishment comes from nursing their mother’s milk.
As soon as they are strong enough, the baby armadillos start coming out of the burrow to learn how to forage for their own food. However, they will still nurse until they are fully weaned – usually after about two months for the nine-banded armadillo.
If you find a wild pup, it is important to locate a qualified wildlife rehabilitation expert as soon as possible. Very young armadillo pups require a tube-fed liquid diet with a very specific formulation, temperature and feeding frequency.
It can take tremendous dedication and delicacy to nurse an infant armadillo through those first critical weeks or months until they can begin eating solid food on their own.
What Can Armadillos Eat?
As you now know, armadillos are able to eat just about anything they can fit in their mouths, chew and swallow. However, armadillos clearly prefer insects as their main food source. Ants and termites are an armadillo’s particular favorite when they are available.
Have you ever seen an armadillo in the wild foraging about for their dinner? How about in a zoo or wildlife center – have you seen armadillos eating their favorite insects, using their powerful claws and sticky tongue to capture their prey?
Let us know what you think of the armadillo diet in the comments section below!
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- Bradford, A. “Armadillo Facts,” Live Science, 2015.
- Capizzo et al. “Dasypodidae: Armadillos,” University of Michigan Animal Diversity Web, 2022.
- Vaz et al. “Notes on Food Habits of Armadillos (Cingulata, Dasypodidae) and Anteaters (Pilosa, Myrmecophagidae) at Serra Da Capivara National Park (PiauÍ State, Brazil),” BioOne Journal, 2012.
- Beck, K. “Armadillo Eating Habits,” Sciencing, 2019.
- Cummins, M. “Armadillo Rescue and Rehabilitation,” Animal Advocates, 2017.
- Munoz et al. “Early hours of treatment in a neonate nine-Banded Armadillo (Dasypus novemcinctus) Rescued from illegal trafficking in Ecuador,” Journal of Wildlife Rehabilitation, 2010.