Have you ever seen an armadillo scurrying across the road and wondered how they reproduce? You may be surprised to learn that armadillos do not lay eggs despite their reptile-like appearance! Read on to learn all about armadillo reproduction and babies.
Do Armadillos Lay Eggs?
Armadillos do not lay eggs. They are mammals, so they give birth to live young like humans, dogs, and other mammals.
Armadillos belong to the order Cingulata, along with extinct glyptodonts and pampatheres. All living cingulates are toothless and have a bony external “armour” of overlapping plates. This unique armour covers the back, sides, legs, and tail. It likely helps protect armadillos from predators.
The armadillo’s armour and general appearance make them seem similar to reptiles or dinosaurs. However, they are placental mammals that nurse their young with milk. So, while they may look like they lay eggs, armadillos give birth to live babies just like humans and other mammals.
Do Armadillos Care For Their Young?
Yes, armadillos care for their offspring, but only briefly after birth. The mother will nurse and protect the babies for 2-3 months before they become independent.
Baby armadillos are called “pups” and are born with soft, leathery skin and incomplete armour plates. After birth, the mother licks the sticky membrane off the newborns and nurses them. She may give birth to identical quadruplets from one egg (always the same sex).
The pups grow rapidly, and their armour hardens within a few weeks. After about 8-10 weeks, the mother finished nursing, and the pups dig their burrows and set out independently. From then on, they must forage and fend for themselves.
Armadillos do not form long-term pair bonds. The father does not help care for the young, and the mother only provides a brief post-natal care period before the babies mature and become independent.
Do Armadillos Mate For Life?
No, armadillos do not mate for life or form lasting pair bonds. They have a promiscuous mating system where males and females mate with multiple partners.
In the breeding season, the male attracts females by releasing a musky odour and grunting noises. When a receptive female approaches, he circles and nudges her until she settles in a suitable spot to mate.
After mating concludes, the male and female part ways and do not maintain a parenting bond. The female is responsible for birthing and briefly caring for the pups alone until weaning.
This lack of bonding extends even between parent and offspring. Once the pups reach 8-10 weeks old, they are mature, weaned from nursing, and ready to head off alone. From then on, armadillos are solitary, coming together only briefly for mating.
How Do Armadillos Reproduce?
Armadillos have an unusual reproductive strategy compared to many mammals. Here’s a look at how they mate and reproduce:
- Polyembryony – Armadillos display polyembryony, meaning one fertilized egg splits into four identical embryos that share a placenta. This is why they nearly always give birth to quadruplets.
- Promiscuous Mating – As discussed above, armadillos mate promiscuously. Females mate with multiple males so that the quadruplets may have different fathers. Males compete for breeding access to females.
- Delayed Implantation – The fertilized egg does not immediately implant in the uterus after mating. Implantation is delayed for 3-4 months until environmental conditions favour giving birth and rearing young.
- Short Gestation – Once the egg implants, gestation is just 60-120 days. This short pregnancy allows them to take advantage of ideal environmental conditions for birthing quickly.
- Small Litters – Between 2-4 pups are born. They are genetically identical quadruplets from the same egg. Litter sizes are small, but pups mature rapidly.
- Short Parental Care – As discussed, the female nurse’s pups for 2-3 months before they mature and become independent. The male provides no care and does not form social bonds.
How Do Baby Armadillos Develop?
Baby armadillos grow and develop quickly under the mother’s care:
- Birth – Pups are born pink, with sticky membranes, soft skin, no armour, and closed eyes. They weigh just 3-4 oz.
- Nursing – For 2-3 months, the mother nurses the pups and protects them in the burrow she dug. Pups grow rapidly.
- Eyes Open – At around 2 weeks old, the pups open their eyes for the first time.
- Armor Hardens – The soft, leathery armor begins to harden within 36 hours after birth. Within a few weeks, it hardens fully into adult plates.
- Weaning – After 8-10 weeks, the pups are weaned off nursing as their armour finishes hardening. At this point, they are mature and ready to leave the burrow.
- Independence – The pups dig their own burrows and set off alone to forage and survive independently without parental care.
- Maturity – They reach sexual maturity within one year. The mating season arrives, and the cycle repeats!