The animal on the cover of Doing Data Science is a nine-banded armadillo (Dasypus novemcinctus), a mammal widespread throughout North, Central, and South America. From Latin, novemcinctus literally translates to “nine-banded” (after the telescoping rings of armor around the midsection), though the animal can actually have between 7 to 11 bands. The three-banded armadillo native to South America is the only armadillo that can roll into a ball for protection; other species have too many plates. The armadillo’s skin is perhaps its most notable feature. Brownish-gray and leathery, it is composed of scaly plates called scutes that cover everything but its underside.
The animals also have powerful digging claws, and are known to create several burrows within their territory, which they mark with scent glands. Nine-banded armadillos typically weigh between 5.5 to 14 pounds, and are around the size of a large domestic cat. Its diet is largely made up of insects, though it will also eat fruit, small reptiles, and eggs. Females almost always have a litter of four—quadruplets of the same gender, because the zygote splits into four embryos after implantation. Young armadillos have soft skin when they are born, but it hardens as they get older. They are able to walk within a few hours of birth. Nine-banded armadillos are capable of jumping three to four feet in the air if startled. Though this reaction can scare off natural predators, it is usually fatal for the armadillo if an approaching car is what has frightened it, as it will collide with the underside of the vehicle. Another unfortunate connection between humans and nine-banded armadillos is that they are the only carriers of leprosy—it is not unheard of for humans to become infected when they eat or handle armadillos. The cover image is from Shaw’s Zoology, and was reinterpreted in color by Karen Montgomery.