The pink fairy armadillo (Chlamyphorus truncatus) or pichiciego is the smallest species of armadillo. This desert-adapted animal is exclusive to central Argentina and can be found inhabiting sandy plains, dunes, and scrubby grasslands.
Fairy armadillos are among the most elusive mammals. Due to their subterranean and nocturnal lifestyle, their basic biology and evolutionary history remain virtually unknown. Two distinct species occupying different geographical areas are recognized: Chlamyphorus truncatus is restricted to central Argentina, while Calyptophractus retusus occurs in the Gran Chaco of Argentina, Paraguay, and Bolivia.
Encounters with these small and enigmatic creatures are extremely rare and incidental. Field observations suggest declines in population for the pink fairy armadillo, while the Chacoan fairy armadillo is affected by habitat loss and persecuted by indigenous people who believe it to be an omen of bad luck, foretelling an impending death in the family.
The Pink Fairy Armadillo is about 6 inches long and weighs around 100 grams (3.5 ounces). They have morphological adaptations to the subterranean lifestyle, such as enlarged digging claws,
reduced eyes, a fusiform body shape (spindle-shaped; rounded and tapering from the middle toward each end), and a vertical, rounded plate that caps the rump. Their ears are not visible, and the extremity of their tail is characteristically flattened and diamond-shaped.
The very first Pink fairy armadillo was described by Richard Harlan in 1825. The Mendoza region has both warm and cold seasons, and likewise, a wet and dry season. They live in temperatures that range from 80 degrees F to 36 degrees F.
Ants and larvae are its main food source while underground. While those are its primary sources of food, the armadillos are known to also eat worms, snails, and various insects. If these insects and invertebrates cannot be found, plant leaves and roots make a good secondary dietary option for their underground lifestyle.
The armored shell consists of 24 bands that allow the animal to curl up in a ball, and the armor is flattened in the posterior portion of the animal so that it can compress dirt behind it as it is digging. This compression strategy is thought to help prevent tunnel collapses. Like most armadillos, they rely mostly on a sense of smell to find each other and their prey.
The pink fairy armadillo is nicknamed the “sand swimmer” because it is said that it can “burrow through the ground as fast as a fish can swim in the sea.” Their underground homes are not completely safe: Fairy armadillos are preyed upon in their burrows by domestic dogs and cats as well as wild boars. They do not live long in captivity, with a maximum so far of 4 years. Due to their cuteness, they are sold on the black market as pets.
This armadillo species is found in several protected areas, including the Lihué Calel National Park. Both national and provincial legislation is in place specifically protecting the species. These critters can run at 2 mph and live about 10 years. The pink color of their shell is due to a network of blood vessels underneath, which can be seen through the armor.
- Richard Harlan (September 19, 1796 – September 30, 1843) was an American paleontologist, anatomist, and physician. He was the first American to devote significant time and attention to vertebrate paleontology and was one of the most important contributors to the field in the early nineteenth century. His work was noted for its focus on objective descriptions, taxonomy, and nomenclature. He was the first American to apply Linnaean names to fossils. [Back]