Southern three-banded armadillo (Tolypeutes matacus)

Close up of a southern three-banded armadillo uncurling from defensive ball
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Southern three-banded armadillo fact file

Southern three-banded armadillo description

GenusTolypeutes (1)

The southern three banded armadillo is remarkable for being one of the few armadillo species capable of rolling into a ball (2). The armour-plating that covers the body is divided into two domed shells, with three armoured bands in between, joined by flexible bands of skin. These flexures allow the body to bend in the middle, snapping the lower edges of the two body shells together to form a sphere, with the bony plates covering the head and tail neatly slotting together into a gap between the adjoined body shells, thereby closing it off completely (2) (3). Other distinctive features of the southern three-banded armadillo are the second, third and fourth toes of the hind feet, which bear hoof-like claws, while in contrast, the fore feet possess sharp, powerful claws (3).

Corechi, Mataco Bola, Quirquincho Bola, Tatú Bolita.
Head-body length: 21.8 - 27.3 cm (2)

Southern three-banded armadillo biology

Unlike other armadillo species, the southern three-banded armadillo usually does not dig burrows, and instead takes refuge in the abandoned burrows of other animals such as anteaters (3) (4). While generally a solitary species, as many as twelve southern three-banded armadillos have been found sharing a burrow during the winter (3). This species has a broad diet, comprising of a variety of invertebrates, particularly beetle larvae, which are taken throughout the year, along with large quantities of ants and termites during the dry season (July to November), and fruits during the summer rains (5). When foraging for ants and termites, this species will probe the ground with its snout, prise off tree bark, or tear into nests with its powerful claws.

The southern three-banded armadillo has an interesting mode of locomotion, walking on its hind-legs with the tips of the foreclaws touching the ground (3). Although when threatened this species is capable of running remarkably quickly to escape, more commonly it curls into a ball, which even strong-jawed predators such as dogs are unable to break open (3) (6). As an additional defence, while curled up, the southern three-banded armadillo will leave a small gap between the edges of the body shells open. When the predator inserts a claw or snout into this gap in an attempt to reach the soft body parts, the armadillo quickly closes it, causing pain and possibly injury to the predator (6) (7).

Breeding is believed to occur between October and January (4), with most births in Paraguay occurring between November and January (3). After a gestation period of 120 days, the female gives birth to a single young, which is suckled for a further 10 weeks (2) (4). The southern three-banded armadillo reaches sexual maturity at around 9 to 12 months old, and has been known to live for over 17 years in captivity (3).


Southern three-banded armadillo range

The southern three-banded armadillo is found from eastern Bolivia and south-western Brazil, south through the Gran Chaco region of Paraguay, to the province of Buenos Aires in Argentina. It is known to occur from sea level up to elevations of 770 m (1).


Southern three-banded armadillo habitat

The southern three-banded armadillo is commonly found in the most arid parts of the Gran Chaco (1), but also occurs in areas of grassland and marshland between scattered forests in the state of Mato Grosso, Brazil (3).


Southern three-banded armadillo status

Classified as Near Threatened (NT) on the IUCN Red List (1).

IUCN Red List species status – Near Threatened


Southern three-banded armadillo threats

Due to the fact that the southern three-banded armadillo does not dig a burrow, and has the habit of rolling into a ball when threatened, it is easier to hunt than other armadillo species, and faces high-levels of hunting pressure across its range (1) (5). This threat is compounded by the conversion of large amounts of its species’ habitat to agricultural land. As a result, the southern three-banded armadillo is undergoing a significant decline and may soon warrant threatened status (1).


Southern three-banded armadillo conservation

The southern three-banded armadillo is found in a number of protected areas, which provide a refuge from the habitat destruction that is occurring within its range. In addition, a captive population of this species is maintained in North America (1).

View information on this species at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.

Find out more

To learn more about conservation initiatives within the southern three-banded armadillo’s habitat visit:

For more information on the southern three-banded armadillo, visit:



Authenticated (09/07/2009) by Dr. Mariella Superina, Chair of the IUCN/SSC Anteaters, Sloths and Armadillos Specialist Group.



The state of being pregnant; the period from conception to birth.
Gran Chaco
An enormous flat plain in central South America, which is characterised by semi-arid thorn forests, savanna plains and marshes, where temperatures are high and rainfall is low.
Animals with no backbone.


  1. IUCN Red List (May, 2009)
  2. Eisenberg, J.F. and Redford, K.H. (1999) Mammals of the Neotropics: The central neotropics: Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Brazil. University of Chicago Press, Chicago.
  3. Nowak, R.M. (1999) Walker's Mammals of the World. Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, Maryland.
  4. Gardner, A.L. (2007) Mammals of South America, Volume 1: Marsupials, Xenarthrans, Shrews, and Bats. University of Chicago Press, Chicago.
  5. Bolković, M.L., Caziani, S.M. and Protomastro, J.J. (1995) Food Habits of the Three-Banded Armadillo (Xenarthra: Dasypodidae) in the Dry Chaco, Argentina. Journal of Mammalogy, 76: 1199 - 1204.
  6. Superina, M. (2009) Pers. comm.
  7. Sanborn, C.C. (1930) Distribution and habits of the three-banded armadillo (Tolypeutes). Journal of Mammalogy, 11: 61 - 69.

Image credit

Close up of a southern three-banded armadillo uncurling from defensive ball  
Close up of a southern three-banded armadillo uncurling from defensive ball

© François Gilson /

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