Andean hairy armadillo (Chaetophractus nationi)

Spanish: Quirquincho Andino
GenusChaetophractus (1)
SizeTail length: 9 - 17.5 cm (2)
Head-body length: 22 - 40 cm (2)

Classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List (1) and listed on Appendix II of CITES (3).

Armadillos are one of the oldest groups of mammals. Once thought to be closely related to turtles because of their tough protective carapaces, zoologists now classify them in the mammalian order Cingulata. Their closest relatives are anteaters and sloths (4). The entire upperside of the body is armoured with bony plates (scutes) that form in the dermis of the skin, and which are covered with small scales. Armadillos are the only living mammals in which bone formation occurs outside the “traditional” skeleton (5). The armouring extends to the top of the head, which bears dark plates like a helmet, and to the thin tail. Unlike other armadillos, members of the Chaetophractus genus have light brown hair between the chinks of the armoured scales, as well as on its legs and underside (2). These animals are well adapted for digging and foraging in the undergrowth and have short legs, long powerful claws, and pointed snouts (2).

The Andean hairy armadillo occurs in Bolivia, northern Chile and northern Argentina (1).

The Andean hairy armadillo lives exclusively in open high-altitude grasslands (2).

This fascinating animal forages by moving slowly along, snuffing through the soil and leaf litter. Once food has been sniffed out, it is dug up with the fore-claws (4). An omnivorous species, the Andean hairy armadillo’s varied diet includes insects, larvae, fruits, roots and carrion (6) (7). Individuals are known to dig beneath decomposing carcasses to find a feast of maggots and insects (2). Like many other armadillo species, the Andean hairy armadillo also employs its powerful claws for digging burrows, in which it lives, rears offspring and uses to escape from predators (2) (4).

Andean large hairy armadillo courtship involves the male following the female avidly, and mating occurs with the male mounting the female from behind. Male armadillos have one of the longest penises amongst mammals, extending to two-thirds of the body length (4). While little is currently known of this species’ reproductive biology, it probably reaches sexual maturity at 9 to 12 months of age, and gives birth to a litter of one or two offspring during the summer (5).

The hard outer covering of the Andean hairy armadillo is good protection from predators, but humans can easily catch and kill them (2). They are extensively hunted and traded, both for food, for their shell, which is used to make musical instruments that are often sold to tourists, and for other body parts, which are used to make amulets and traditional medicines (1) (8). In addition, this species is also persecuted for its disruptive burrowing on agricultural land (1). Habitat loss from deforestation, sand extraction for road construction, and agricultural development are also ongoing and increasing threats (4) (8).

International trade of the Andean hairy armadillo is prohibited by its listing on Appendix II of the Convention of International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES), which specifies an annual trade quota of zero (3) (8). It is hoped that this measure will reduce trade in this species and therefore the extent to which it is hunted, although enforcement on trade in souvenirs is often inadequate (8). Furthermore, despite additional protection by national laws prohibiting the capture and trade of the Andean hairy armadillo in Bolivia, demand for armadillo products continues. Fortunately the non-governmental organization Tamandua along with the Bolivian Ministry of Sustainable Development and Planning are working to develop a national conservation programme for the Andean hairy armadillo. Their efforts should help to ensure a future for this charismatic species (8).

Authenticated (04/09/2009) by Dr. Mariella Superina, Chair of the IUCN/SSC Anteaters, Sloths and Armadillos Specialist Group.

  1. IUCN Red List (December, 2009)