Giant armadillo

(Priodontes maximus)

other common names

Taxonomy

Order: Cingulata
Family: Chlamyphoridae
Subfamily: Tolypeutinae

description

This is the largest of all extant armadillo species. It measures about 75 to 100 cm from the head to the base of the tail, which is about 40 to 50 cm long. Its weight varies between 20 and 60 kg, but animals of up to 80 kg have been recorded in captive conditions. The carapace is dark brown to black, with a broad light-colored band around its lower part and 11 to 13 movable bands. The claws on its forefeet are thick and powerful.

diet

Giant armadillos are mainly insectivorous, eating primarily ants and termites. They occasionally eat other invertebrates, such as spiders, beetles, cockroaches, millipedes, and worms, small snakes, carrion, and rarely figs and other fruit.

range

The giant armadillo occurs in northern and central South America, always east of the Andes, in Colombia, Venezuela, the Guianas, Brazil, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Paraguay, and northern Argentina. It can be found at altitudes up to 500 m asl.

reproduction

Not much is known about the reproductive strategy of giant armadillos. The females give birth to one, exceptionally two, young per litter, but it is not clear whether they breed every year. The offspring remain inside the burrow during most of the lactation period of 4 to 6 months. The females sometimes leave their offspring inside the burrow and close the entrance to impede predator attacks.

curious facts

The claw on the third forefinger can measure up to 20.3 cm along the curve, which makes it the largest claw of any living mammal. As a consequence, giant armadillos walk on the tip of their front claws. Giant armadillos have more teeth than any other armadillo species and most other mammals. The total number of teeth is highly variable and can reach 100 or even more.

threats

Giant armadillos are threatened by hunting for meat (generally for subsistence) and, especially, by habitat loss and fragmentation through deforestation, land-use change, and agriculture. The illegal capture of giant armadillos for clandestine sale to wealthy animal collectors may also be a threat, but is difficult to quantify.

HaBITAT and ECOLOGy

This species lives in undisturbed primary rainforests, dry forests, humid to dry lowland forests, and savannas. It is highly fossorial and nocturnal, but may be active during the day especially inside burrows. Burrows are often constructed in sloped terrain near water bodies or under active termite mounds. At least 26 other vertebrate species have been observed using giant armadillo burrows. Giant armadillos are naturally rare where they occur. They have very large home ranges, of 450 to 1500 hectares. Depending on the area, they occur at densities between 4.7 and 6.3 individuals per 100 km2 .

Population trend

Decreasing.

conservation status

Priodontes maximus has a wide area of distribution, but it is rare over its entire range and is very patchily distributed. The species is hunted for meat and is heavily affected by habitat loss. Furthermore, it is sometimes captured to be kept as a pet or to be illegally sold as a “living fossil”, but it usually does not survive long in captivity. These threats have led to an estimated population decline of at least 30% in the past three generations (which corresponds to around 21 years), and the species has disappeared from large parts of its southern range. Hence, it is listed as Vulnerable. Priodontes maximus is included in Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) and on the international list of endangered species under the United States Endangered Species Act. It is listed as endangered in Colombia, Venezuela, Argentina, and Paraguay; and considered Vulnerable in Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, and Brazil. In French Guiana it is fully protected by law.