University of the Ozarks Biology Professor Dr. Frank Knight is considered one of the leading scholars in the country on armadillos. Since 1990, Dr. Knight and his U of O students have helped advance both the academic and scientific communities with the capture and study of armadillos. The nine-banded armadillo — the most wide-ranging of species and the one found in the Southern half of the U.S. — makes an interesting, unique and valuable research subject for a number of reasons. Armadillos are the living mammals most like the first placental mammals, the only mammal in the U.S. with a shell, the only animal that contracts leprosy other than humans, and the only mammal to give birth to litters of genetically identical quadruplets. They also have unusual body temperature control, developing a fever when they are cold. Because of these unique characteristics, armadillos have been important in the development of a leprosy vaccine, the understanding of reproduction, experiments in skin and organ transplants, and drug metabolism experiments.
Here are five fascinating facts that you might not have known about armadillos:
- Armadillos are not blind, but they do have very poor eyesight. They rely on their ears and noses more than their eyes to detect food or predators.
- Armadillos are used in leprosy research because their body temperatures are low enough for them to contract the most virulent form of the disease. They also do not have a very strong immune system, making them an ideal model for many types of medical research.
- Nine-banded armadillos always give birth to four identical young — the only mammal known to do so. All four young develop from the same egg, and they even share the same placenta.
- Armadillo teeth have no enamel. They also have very few teeth, just a few peg-like molars. Since they primarily eat insects, they don’t have to do a lot of heavy chewing, making big, strong teeth a waste of energy to grow.
- In 1728, His Majesty George II, King of England, was presented with an armadillo as a gift. This so-called “Indian Monster” was kept happy by serving it “Eggs very hard boil’d.”