The South American giant armadillo is a mammal covered in armour-plating made of horn and born. It lives alone, sheltering by day in burrows dug with its claws. At night it feeds mainly on insects. Habitat loss, especially through logging, has caused numbers to fall to just a few thousand animals scattered across the continent.
|Common Name||Tatou, Ocarro, Tatu-canastra or Tatú Carreta.|
|Range||once found widely throughout the tropical forests of South America and now ranges throughout varied habitat as far south as northern Argentina.|
The Giant armadillo (Priodontes maximus), colloquially tatou, ocarro, tatu-canastra or tatú carreta, is the largest living species of armadillo (although the extinct glyptodonts were much larger). It was once found widely throughout the tropical forests of South America and now ranges throughout varied habitat as far south as northern Argentina. This species is considered vulnerable to extinction.
The giant armadillo prefers termites and some ants as prey, and often consumes the entire population of a termite mound. It also has been known to prey upon worms, larvae and larger creatures, such as spiders and snakes, and plants.
Armadillos are two of the oldest groups of mammals and have a quirky appearance, with a tough shell composed of bony plates in the dermis covered by horny scales. The giant armadillo is the largest living species of this group, and has 11 to 13 hinged bands protecting the body, and a further three or four on the neck. Its body is dark brown in color, with a lighter, yellowish band running along the sides, and a pale, yellow-white head. These armadillos have around 80 to 100 teeth, which is more than any other terrestrial mammal. They also possess extremely long front claws, including a sickle-shaped third claw. The giant armadillos typically weigh around 28–32 kg (62–71 lb) when fully grown, however a 54 kg (119 lb) specimen has been weighed in the wild and captive specimens have been weighed up to 80 kg (180 lb). The typical length of the species is 75–100 cm (30–39 in), with the tail adding another 50 cm (20 in).
Armadillos have not been extensively studied in the wild; therefore, little is known about their natural ecology and behavior. In the only long term study on the species, that started in 2003 in the Peruvian Amazon, dozen of another species of mammals, reptiles and birds were found using the giant armadillo burrows at the same day, including the rare short-eared dog (Atelocynus microtis). Because of this, the species is considered habitat engineer, and the local extinction of Priodontes may have cascading effects in the mammalian community by impoverishing fossorial habitat (Leite Pitman et al 2004). Giant armadillos are fairly solitary and nocturnal, spending the day in burrows. They also burrow to escape predators, being unable to completely roll into a protective ball. Giant armadillos use their large front claws to dig for prey and rip open termite mounds. The diet is mainly composed of termites, although ants, worms, spiders and other invertebrates are also eaten. Little is currently known about this species' reproductive biology, and no juveniles have ever been discovered in the field. The average sleep time of a captive giant armadillo is said to be 18.1 hours.
Hunted throughout its range, a single giant armadillo supplies a great deal of meat, and is the primary source of protein for some indigenous peoples. In addition, live giant armadillos are frequently captured for trade on the black market, and invariably die during transportation or in captivity. Despite this species’ wide range, it is locally rare. This is further exacerbated by habitat loss resulting from deforestation. Current estimates indicate the giant armadillo may have undergone a worrying population decline of 30 to 50 percent over the past three decades. Without intervention, this trend is likely to continue.