Totems: ARMADILLO Part 1 of 2

by Cie Simurro- Thunderbird Starwoman

Perhaps you have used this time holed up in your homes to protect yourselves from the pandemic virus, to examine your lives, and clarify your purpose in life. Many have realized that a deeper realization of love and kindness toward each other is the direction humans must take if the world is to survive the enmity that has kept it in a state of war. Perhaps you are planning a future where you are one who will work to help others find their way through the present morass into their greatest truth. My people will help you with that. I AM ARMADILLO. Many think that I put up a shield to be defensive, but I am just being safe, like you. Yes, one of my strengths is to have appropriate boundaries, and you would do well to learn from me how to be discriminating in your choices of people and situations with which you surround yourself.

Armadillo, meaning, “little armored one” in Spanish, carries its armor on its back, head, legs, and tail. Flexible leathery skin around the middle of the back of the body forms crosswise bands that are covered over with overlapping bony platelets called scutes. Those scutes do wear, and grow continuously, but are never fully shed. Though their heads are partially covered with them, the large, rounded ears are only covered in rough, bumpy skin and are hairless. The long snout of the Nine-banded armadillo is soft and pinkish in color, and almost pig-like in shape. Also, like pigs, armadillos enjoy a cooling wallow in the mud. They have 28 to 32 small, cylindrical, peg-shaped teeth in rows in the back of their mouths. They need this many teeth because almost 500 separate food items make up the diet of the Nine-banded armadillo, and over 90% of it is animal matter

Like their cousins, the anteaters, (armadillos are related to anteaters and sloths), Nine-banded armadillos have very long, sticky tongues which they use to capture ants and termites, their favorite foods, because they can’t open their jaws very far. They also eat a prodigious amount of beetles, grubs, grasshoppers, millipedes and centipedes, arachnids, earthworms, and even small reptiles and amphibians. Occasionally, they will prey on baby animals or bird eggs. That doesn’t leave a big percentage for plant matter, does it? Fruit, seeds, and fungi have been found in small amounts in their stomachs, along with dirt, twigs, and tree bark, but those may have just gotten caught along with the invertebrates. Armadillos usually den near water, which they require for drinking, and which they lap up like a dog.

Armadillos are of the order, Cingulata. The Latin name for the Nine-banded armadillo is Dasypus novemcinctus, because they have nine bands around their backs. Dasypus is derived from the Latin word for rabbit. Novem means nine and cinctus means band. Literally, it translates to “nine-banded rabbit.” They were probably named that because it is said that armadillos without their armor resemble rabbits. In fact, the Aztecs called armadillos, “turtle-rabbits.”

Predators have a hard time grasping the smooth, bony plates, which works in the ‘Dillo’s favor, when running away through brush and brambles, since their predators cannot follow them as easily. Like porcupines, armadillos have an underside that is vulnerable, since its belly is only skin and some sparse, coarse hairs. So, that is what predators go for, if they can. Armadillo’s predators are wolves, coyotes, big cats like pumas, jaguars, and bobcats, black bears, alligators – even raptors. They attack armadillos when they are far from the protection of their dens. The variety of predators listed may seem like a lot, but the marked decline of natural predator populations in North America has aided the northern expansion of armadillos. Juveniles are much more susceptible to predators because of their softer carapace. Humans are predators, both intentionally and accidentally. People hunt them for their meat and skin. Death by automobiles also claim the lives of thousands of these creatures each year. Many times, it’s actually one of their defense mechanisms that gets them killed, because armadillos can jump three to four feet in the air when they feel threatened, especially by an oncoming car or truck. So, they get stuck under the vehicle.

They have extremely poor vision, but armadillo’s sense of smell is very powerful. They can consume hundreds of pounds of invertebrate insects in a season. They have the ability to smell their prey even half a foot underground. They also have well-developed hearing. When the Nine-banded armadillo either freezes, or jumps straight up into the air, these reflexes may help scare off predators in the wild. They’re also pretty good sprinters, and often do just that to get to the protection of their burrow.

There are a variety of reasons to call upon armadillo totem to be our ally, beginning with the issue of boundaries. If you’re letting people walk all over you, it’s time to ask armadillo for help reasserting yourself with your truth. Once the threat has passed, and the situation is clear, you can unroll those tight defenses. Armadillo’s Medicine teaches us to be very conscious of those who have our backs, and those who don’t. Can you trust those who know how you think, and how you work? Who can you trust when your defenses are down, and when you are in an unguarded state? It’s good to know these things ahead of any situations that might arise, for we don’t want to live life defensively.

Armadillos sleep up to 18 hours at a time, mostly in the daytime – sometimes, outside their burrows in the sun. They tend to sleep on their backs, so this leaves them somewhat vulnerable to predators. As nocturnal animals, they forage, eat, burrow, and mate at night. An obvious thing to look at if armadillo energy has become present in your life is to check and see if you have been put in an overly-exposed situation. This may be a matter of discretion or it may be more literal. Since we are in uncharted territory with the Covid viruses, we must take extra care to conduct ourselves in a protected and safe way.

The Three-banded armadillo is the only armadillo that can roll itself into a complete ball. One day in January, while writing this article, I was walking my dog in the snow-encrusted woods. I’d been very careful not to walk on ice without wearing ice-grabbers on my boots, and the snow did have a crunchy layer. What I didn’t expect was a piece of a branch to be sticking straight up out of the snow, so I tripped over it and fell. You know how, when something like that happens, everything goes into slow motion? I made a couple of decisions during that fall.

  1. I relaxed my body to lessen any possible injury
  2. I let myself fall on my non-dominant side, and
  3. Because of my research on armadillo, I curled my body into as much of a ball as I could.

So, curling myself into a semi-ball enabled me to fall on the most padded parts of my body – the outside of my right arm, torso, and leg. Thanks to my research on armadillo, I didn’t get hurt.

Yes, when threatened by a predator, some armadillos will curl, as much as their armor lets them, into the fetal position or a ball, but others will just as often hurriedly dig a hole, or, if it is close by, their first preference is to flee into their burrow, which is a multi-chambered tunnel. They then wedge themselves in, arching their backs against the burrow walls, and sitting tight to the ground. This makes it difficult for predators to remove them.

Ah, those multi-chambered burrows. They can be pretty big. Some are sixteen to twenty feet wide and anywhere from six to twelve feet deep. Armadillos have strong, thick legs, with four toes on the forefeet, and five toes on the hind feet. They excavate the burrow by digging with wicked-huge, curved, claws on their forefeet, that are perfect for rapid digging, and use the hind feet to kick the dirt they’ve loosened, out of the tunnel. Nine-banded armadillos will often have multiple burrows – even ten burrows is not unusual. One is used for nesting and the other smaller, shallow ones are used as food traps. They will often try to disguise the burrow entrance with plant debris and brambles, and make it more cozy inside with grasses and leaves. A burrow may have several entrances, but its inhabitant usually prefers a south-facing entrance as the main one. A male and female sometimes share a burrow during mating season, but afterward, only the female and her young remain in it.

So, here we are – a divided country, arguing every possible version of politics. What is the truth, you may well ask? Armadillo totem can help us dig deep, not only for our own personal truth, but also for truth about the state of the world, and how, as a country, we can unite for the good of all.

Part 2 will be in the May/June issue of Wisdom


Cie Simurro ~ Thunderbird Starwoman has been a Healer, Writer, Minister, Advocate and Steward for the natural world for over 45 years; author of this column for 20 years. Send me an email if you wish to be notified with a link to Wisdom when a new Totems article comes out.

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