Apr 4

Here at Arkive, we’re really excited about our Friday night TV viewing this week! BBC2 will be airing Hotel Armadillo, narrated by Sir David Attenborough sixty years after he first introduced British TV viewers to an armadillo (see picture below!).

There are 20 known armadillo species, of which all but one is found in Latin America.  The name ‘armadillo’ comes from a Spanish word meaning ‘little armoured one’ – a reference to the bony plates which, uniquely among mammals, cover the back, head, legs, and tail of species within this distinctive family. Hotel Armadillo focuses on the giant armadillo, a creature so few people have ever seen in the wild that some describe it as a ghost species.

The challenge in filming is not simply that this animal is rare, solitary, shy, and nocturnal, but it also spends three-quarters of its time hidden underground in six-metre-deep burrows dotted across a wetland as big as England – Brazil’s Pantanal.

Thanks to the commitment, patience and clever camera set-ups of a team led by Dr Arnaud Desbiez, a conservation biologist with the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, and a UK film crew, the long-held secrets of giant armadillo life are beginning to unfold. Some of these secrets have even surprised the experts!

The show sheds fresh light on how the giant armadillo, an ecosystem engineer, is crucial to the health of the Pantanal, the world’s largest tropical wetland, and the many other species that call it home. Among the many revelatory sequences is the first television footage of a giant armadillo newborn, images of what happens inside and around their burrows and unique evidence of just how many other Pantanal species check into the animal’s hideaways for food and lodgings.

During the 2 year making of the film, a total of 80 different guests/diners were recorded within the hideaways of armadillos – hence the name ‘Hotel Armadillo’! Just a few of these species include:

Azara’s agouti, a rodent nicknamed the ‘jungle gardener’ due to its constant digging for buried caches of nuts and seeds, which tills the earth and encourages new plant growth

Crab-eating fox, not a true fox and not fussy about only eating crabs

Giant anteater, a cousin of the giant armadillo

Ocelot, related to leopards and once hunted almost to extinction due to demand for its fur

Collared anteater, a mostly tree-dwelling anteater with a partially prehensile tail

Tayra, a metre-long relative of weasels

Another surprise inclusion in the documentary is aerial footage of the spectacular scenery found within the 140,000 km sq Pantanal ecoysystem.  The aerial shots were feared lost at one point, after the drone which shot them dropped into extremely deep caiman, stingray and piranha-infested water. But the plucky crew eventually managed to retrieve it and found the footage intact despite the drone’s four-hour-long submersion!

Viewers will never have seen giant armadillos filmed like this before. Rare, solitary, living mostly underground in very remote habitat and emerging only at night makes them extremely challenging to find, let alone film – so much so that even David Attenborough, our narrator, still yearns to see one in the wild despite embarking on the quest 60 years ago!”  – Justin Purefoy, Hotel Armadillo’s producer-director-cameraman

At the voiceover recording, Sir David recalled to Maramedia, the production company who filmed Hotel Armadillo, his first encounters with the armadillo family.

In the middle of the 1950s I went off to Paraguay… (where)… there are all kinds of armadillos – at least half a dozen different species.  The little three-banded was a charming little thing – running away on its tiptoes and when you catch them you can pick them up like little oranges and put them in a bag. But what used to happen was that the armadillo would suddenly open up… (and)… start trotting and you would see the bag rolling across the landscape – a very entertaining sight. Not very responsible.  It isn’t something that you ought to do these days, but years ago that was what zoos did.

Hotel Armadillo will be aired in the UK at 9 pm on Friday 7th April 2017 on BBC2 as part of the BBC Natural World series, and shortly after on PBS the USA.

Discover more of Brazil’s ecosystems and species on Arkive

We interviewed Arnaud Desbiez for our Spotlight on Whitley Award winners blog in 2015, check it out here

Feb 20

For the first time, scientists have caught a glimpse of the breeding behaviour of the rare giant armadillo in the wild.

Giant armadillo walking

Armadillos are one of the oldest groups of mammals

Burrowing rarity

Found throughout the Amazon rainforest and Brazil’s Pantanal region, the giant armadillo is the largest species of armadillo in the world. Classified as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List, this species’ nocturnal and burrowing habits make it particularly hard to study and, so far, relatively little is known about its breeding behaviour.

However, a new study, led by scientists in Brazil, has used modern technology to help answer questions regarding the poorly known mating behaviour of the giant armadillo. Camera traps are a particularly effective non-intrusive method of gaining insight into the lives of shy, lesser-known mammal species, and their use in this study has been highly valuable.

Giant armadillo emerging from burrow

Armadillos have a quirky appearance

Baby giant

Scientists from the Pantanal Giant Armadillo Project have monitored a female giant armadillo since November 2011  using the remote camera traps and, in January 2012, the presence of a male giant armadillo around the female’s burrows raised hopes that a romance might blossom. While aware of the possibility of wishful thinking, the scientists were optimistic, particularly when, after six months, the two armadillos shared a burrow for several days, after which the male disappeared.

Five months afterwards, suspicions were raised when the female began to use only one burrow, an unusual behaviour for this species which frequently moves between burrows. Three weeks later, the nose of a newborn giant armadillo was finally caught on camera, confirming what the scientists had hoped to find. Further photographs of the infant were captured as it emerged from the burrow, its age estimated to be around four weeks old.

Arnaud Desbiez, Project Coordinator says, “Documenting the birth of a giant armadillo is an exciting step forward to helping us better understand the biology and reproduction of this cryptic species and ultimately help us conserve it.

Although there are many questions still to be answered, the scientists have found evidence that suggests giant armadillos only have one offspring at a time.

photo of giant armadillo and infant

Camera traps snapped the approximately four week old baby giant armadillo leaving the burrow with its mother

Conserving rare species

This long-term study of a giant armadillo has provided essential information on its behaviour that can be used to help conserve this rare species, which has never bred in captivity. The information will help provide an understanding of the species’ population dynamics, which can be used to influence future conservation plans.

The secretive nature and rarity of the giant armadillo means that its local extinction can easily go unnoticed, and to lose such a species before we know anything about its ecology and behaviour would be devastating. Long-term studies such as this one are fundamental to understanding the ecological role played by rare and endangered species.

Hunter with dead giant armadillo

Hunter with dead giant armadillo

The giant armadillo is particularly vulnerable to habitat loss and hunting, due to the large amount of meat its body supplies, and estimates suggest its population may have declined by at least 30 percent over the last 25 years. Without intervention, coupled with knowledge of the species’ behaviour and ecology, this trend is likely to continue. The giant armadillo is sadly the least studied species of the Dasypodidae family, a problem that the Pantanal Giant Armadillo Project is working hard to solve.

 

Read more on this story at Mongabay – Scientists document baby giant armadillo for first time (photos)

View photos and videos of the giant armadillo on ARKive.

 

Kaz Armour, ARKive Text Author

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