Giant Armadillo, Priodontes maximus

The giant armadillo (Priodontes maximus), known locally as many names including ocarro, is a species that is native to eastern areas of South America, although it is now found in a wide range that includes northern Argentina. It resides in a variety of habitats including tropical forests. Despite its large range, the species has a scattered distribution.

The giant armadillo reaches an average body length between thirty and thirty-nine inches, with an average weight between sixty-two and seventy-one pounds. The shell or carapace of this species is hard and composed of eleven to thirteen bands, with three to four bands occurring along the neck. It is dark brown in color with a pale or whitish head and a yellow stripe running along the sides of the body. It holds eighty to one hundred teeth, which is more than any other mammal species, and has large, sharp claws that help it defend itself and dig burrows.

Because extensive research has never been conducted on armadillo species, there is very little known about the habits of the species. The giant armadillo is solitary in nature and is typically active during the nighttime hours. It spends the daytime hours in burrows, which it also uses to protect itself from predators. Its main diet consists of termites, which it gathers by destroying termite mounds with its large claws, but it will also consume worms, spiders, ants, and other invertebrates.

One of the main threats to the giant armadillo is hunting, which occurs in many areas of its range. For some native people, this armadillo is a primary source of meat and it is often captured for trade in the black market, after which it typically dies during transportation. It is also threatened by habitat loss. Studies have shown that the population numbers of this species have dropped between thirty to fifty percent throughout the past thirty years, which is a large loss to the already rare species.

The giant armadillo is protected by law in many areas of its range including Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, and Peru and is also protected by Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), which prohibits international trade. It does occur in some protected areas, like the 1.6 million hectare Central Suriname Nature Reserve. The protected areas help protect the species from hunting and trade and aid in stopping habitat destruction. The giant armadillo appears in Appendix I of CITES and on the IUCN Red List with a conservation status of “Vulnerable.”

Image Caption: Ocarro or Giant Armadillo from Villavicencio Colombia. Credit: Pascaweb/Wikipedia (CC BY 3.0)