Introducing “Tuck” — The South American Armadillo

Yes, we’re a Texas wildlife company, but this is NO Texas armadillo — this is Tuck, a La Plata or 3-banded armadillo (Tolypeutes matacus) from the dry, grassy Chaco region of Paraguay in South America. This armadillo species is a favorite of wildlife educators throughout the world for its tame, gentle nature and especially for its unique ability to do something other armadillos cannot do. This is the only armadillo species to be able to retract, or "tuck," into a tight ball — using its headplate and tail like puzzle pieces to entirely protect its underside from predators. He’s rather small — when tucked, he’s about the size of a large grapefruit or pomelo.

The word armadillo means "little armored one" in Spanish. Their thick, leathery shell is made of keratin (the same stuff as our fingernails) and the 3-banded has two half domes of shell, separated by three armored bands. Their head and tail are covered with bony plates and the headplate pattern is unique to each armadillo — like an identifying fingerprint. These are nocturnal creatures and spend their nights hunting for insects — ants and termites being favorites. They do not dig their own burrows, but instead borrow abandoned anteater holes. Their feet are especially unique. Their front insect-digging claws are so oversized that they walk on the tip of the largest claw — like a ballet dancer. The three center toes on their back feet are fused, like stumpy hooves. They don’t have typical teeth either — they have small peg-shaped teeth that lack enamel. And, they lap up their bugs and rotting fruits with a long sticky, pink tongue.

Tuck was shared with us by another educational facility. He is a quiet and shy Latin gentleman, but is naturally curious and will explore his surroundings looking for something wiggly to snack on. And, he won’t hesitate to quickly tuck into his famous shape to demonstrate his special skill at self-protection. Tuck will be traveling with us this summer to more than 50 free Texas library shows as part of our new "Animal Locomotion" program. Come meet Tuck in person — just don’t take it personally if he doesn’t untuck to meet you!

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