status: Endangered, IUCN Endangered, ESA
range: Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, French Guiana, Guyana, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname, Uruguay, Venezuela
Description and biology
The giant armadillo is the largest member of the armadillo family, which is composed of twenty-one species. Eleven to thirteen moveable bony plates cover a giant armadillo's back, and three to four flexible bands cover its neck. Its body is dark brown, while its head, tail, and a stripe around the bottom of its shell are whitish. A giant armadillo measures 30 to 39 inches (76 to 99 centimeters) from the tip of its nose to the end of its body. Its tail is about 20 inches (50 centimeters) long. It weighs between 44 and 88 pounds (20 and 40 kilograms).
Unlike certain members of the armadillo family, the giant armadillo cannot roll into a ball, protected by its body armor. To escape from danger, the giant armadillo quickly digs itself into the ground using the long claws on its front legs. The
animal also uses these claws to dig for ants, termites, worms, spiders, and other insects which it feeds on at night.
The gestation (pregnancy) period of a female giant armadillo is about four months. She gives birth to one or two infants at a time, each weighing about 4 ounces (113 grams), and they nurse for four to six weeks. The life span of a giant armadillo is 12 to 15 years.
Habitat and current distribution
The giant armadillo is found in many South American countries, from Venezuela and Guyana south to Argentina. However, its primary habitat is the Amazonian rain forest.
History and conservation measures
Hunting, human settlement, and agricultural development have all contributed to the giant armadillo's decline. Although laws in Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Paraguay, Peru, and Suriname protect the animal, it is still hunted for food in some areas. Of greater concern is the destruction of its habitat, as large areas of rain forest are cleared for homes and farms.
National parks and nature reserves in Brazil, Colombia, Peru, and Suriname provide safe habitats for giant armadillos, but rain forest destruction is a continuing problem. Current conservation efforts include plans to move giant armadillos to protected habitats and to breed them in captivity.