Giant Armadillo

Status: Vulnerable Vulnerable - small

Known as: Giant Armadillo, Ocarro.

Estimated numbers left in the wild: Unknown, but the population has likely fallen by 30% to 50% in the past few decades.

Description: The largest of one of Earth’s most fascinating groups of armoured animals, the giant armadillo measures up to 1 meter long, exclusive of tail, with the tail adding another 50 centimetres. The animal weighs around 30 kilograms on average, but can grow as large as 55 kilograms or more. With a wide head protected by armoured scales, an armoured back, short, sturdy legs, and a distinctive pink band around the lower edge of its shell, the giant armadillo is an unmistakeable creature even among the intriguing lifeforms of South America. It possesses more teeth than any other mammal – up to 100 – and has large claws on its front feet, the third claw in particular developed into a large sickle.

Giant armadillos are solitary individuals who feed mainly on termites. They are excellent diggers and live in burrows in forests or scrub, emerging at night to feed. Since the giant armadillo cannot curl into a ball like its smaller relatives can, it protects itself when attacked by digging quickly into the ground until only its armour-plated back is exposed. The armadillo remains in one area for a few weeks at most before moving on in search of fresh territory and food. It does not defend a territory against other giant armadillos and largely ignores them. The third claw is used to tear into termite nests – a single giant armadillo can completely wipe out a termite nest while feeding. It also dines on other invertebrates and even the occasional unlucky snake or lizard.

Giant Armadillo Range Map

Yellow: Native, Red: Extinct
(Source IUCN Red List)

Giant armadillos remain mysterious creatures despite their large size and spectacular, prehistoric appearance. Their solitary habits and night-time activity patterns make them hard to observe. Baby giant armadillos have never been seen in the wild, so its natural breeding habits are completely unknown. Female giant armadillos appear to bear only a single youngster most of the time, though twins sometimes occur. Young giant armadillos stay with their mother for around half a year, nursing the entire time, then strike out on their own. The species reaches sexual maturity at around a year and can live for 15 years in the wild.

Location: The giant armadillo is found chiefly in Brazil but also in Paraguay, Argentina, Bolivia, Columbia, Venezuela, Suriname, Guyana, and French Guiana.


Conservation

Vulnerable

Threats: Recklessly excessive hunting for meat is the main threat to giant armadillos, with very little official effort being made to prevent their killing. The armadillo’s armour is no match for a rifle bullet, and they make attractive prey since they are slow-moving, prefer to defend themselves by digging in and hunkering down, and offer plenty of meat. The vast majority of population loss in the species is due to impoverished people in their region hunting them for food.

Some are also captured in an effort to sell them on the illegal exotic pet market, but almost always die soon after being caged and transported. Habitat loss is contributing to the pressures facing the species also.

Conservation efforts: The giant armadillo is protected by law in most of the countries it is found in, but enforcement is weak or non-existent in many areas. The armadillos happen, by chance, to inhabit several massive nature reserves, which gives them some protection, but much more conservation is needed to preserve the species for the future.


Organisations

Jaguar Conservation Fund
Jaguar Conservation Fund
Jaguar Conservation Fund is based in Brazil and works primarily with Jaguars. However, they focus on other conservation projects too including gaining information about the Giant Armadillo.


Armadillo Species


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