Armadillo: Armored Mammals

One of the most unique creatures of the animal kingdom is the armadillo, a mammal unique to the western hemisphere.  There are around twenty-one species of armadillo in existence today, along with several larger extinct varieties.  These unique little creatures also present challenges to evolutionary theory. In this article, we will go over some armadillo basics, as well as explain how they challenge evolutionary dogma.

Armadillos come in a variety of sizes, from the size of a medium-sized mouse to the size of a common barnyard pig. They are made special and unique by their armored back plating. Despite popular belief, only one species of armadillo is able to completely roll into a ball to protect itself from predators.  The rest rely on either their burrowing abilities or their speed to escape predators.  Armadillos have large front claws and powerful leg muscles designed to dig.  Most armadillos live in below ground dens that they dig for themselves. They will spend as much as sixteen hours a day in these dens, sleeping.  Most armadillos are insectivorous, feeding on various species of insects. Often, armadillos will hunt their prey underground, using their powerful sharp claws to dig tunnels in search of prey. Others will find ant and termite colonies and rip them open, before slurping up any unfortunate insects found within using their long sticky tongue. Some larger armadillos will also dine on snakes and frogs.  Armadillos find their prey using their keen sense of smell. They have very poor eyesight, depending entirely on their smell to find their meals. Because of this poor eyesight, armadillos depend heavily on wiry hairs called curb feelers, that project from their sides and snout. These act as tactile receptors, enabling armadillos to feel their way around their environment, much as a blind man might in an unfamiliar room.  Armadillos can walk underwater for over six minutes simply by holding their breath.  In order to cross rivers and lakes, armadillos have the ability to inflate their intestines, effectively granting them buoyancy to swim across the body of water.  Armadillos can live up to twenty years in captivity, but in the wild, this lifespan is much closer to the early teens.  Interestingly, armadillos can carry the bacteria that causes leprosy in humans, but acquiring the disease from the animal would require either extensive handling or eating contaminated meat.

The defining characteristic of the armadillo is the shell. The shell is characterized by bands running across it. The number of bands is dependent on the species of armadillo.  The stomach of an armadillo has no armor and is covered in fuzzy hair.  The rest of the animal is heavily armored. The armor is made of bone, much like a tortoise.  These overlapping bony scutes are covered in horn, giving the animal its trademark appearance. The more of these bony plates the animal has, the more difficult it is for it to roll up into a ball. The few predators the armadillo has, such as foxes, wolves, eagles and other large carnivores all struggle with the bony armor of the armadillo. thus armadillos ranges are spreading. In the United States, armadillos have been spotted as far north as Illinois.

Armadillos give birth to live young, most frequently as identical quadruplets. The mother armadillo carries the young for anywhere from two to four months in her womb before they are born, depending on the species. The young are born without the bony plate protection and thus are more vulnerable to predators than adults. This will harden up within a few weeks.  The young will live in the mothers burrow for up to a year before leaving to live on their own, though they usually are weaned by the six-month mark.  The young will each dig their own burrow and live their life alone, except during mating season, or in extreme circumstances.

The armadillo challenges evolutionary theory. A mammal with armor like a turtle has to be explained. Yet there is no direct evolutionary ancestor for the armadillo. They are lumped in with sloths and anteaters in the evolutionary classification.  Trying to tie the armored shell of a burrowing armadillo to the unarmored, hair covered, slow-moving arboreal sloth must be a challenging mental gymnastics exercise, one I will not attempt. Sloths and armadillos do not share a common ancestor.

The armor of the armadillo is an excellent deterrent to predators. However, it is also excellent evidence for a designer. For example, consider that the armor is constructed of bone and horn. The bone gives it strength, the horn makes it more comfortable to wear and allows it to touch without bone rubbing on bone.  A natural process would not have combined the two. If the armor had been made only of bone, the rubbing of bone on bone would have caused the original armadillo excruciating pain. If it had been made of only horn, carnivores teeth would have easily sliced through it, ending a possibility of further development.  The armor could not have evolved.

Several other facets of the armadillo demand an explanation. For example, from where did the armadillo learn or evolve the ability to inflate its intestine to float across a river? If it did not have this ability, it would have drowned mid-river and dead armadillos do not evolve. However, supposing it managed to evolve the ability to inflate its intestines with air, this still does not help it long term. The armadillo makes it across the river but then is so bloated it cannot function normally and quickly succumbs to the nearest wolf or bear. It cannot get rid of the excess air.  The whole system has to be in place at once or it will not work.  Further, why would a nearly blind armadillo know it needed help navigating an area and thus evolve the curb feeler hairs.  Suppose the armadillo evolves without those curb feelers. It then stumbles around, running into tree trunks and walking off cliffs. At the bottom of a cliff, a crushed armadillo would not be able to recognize its need for visual assistance. Curb feelers are something we would expect to see in an animal designed not to rely on its eyesight. They are an example of a loving Creator taking care of His creation, not a blind random process happening to get it right. The armadillo did not evolve.  It was made to function exactly how it does.



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