Pichi (Zaedyus pichiy)

Also known as: dwarf armadillo
Spanish: Piche
GenusZaedyus (1)
SizeHead-body length: 260 - 335 mm (2)
Weight1 - 1.5 kg (3)  

Classified as Near Threatened (NT) on the IUCN Red List (1).

The pichi is a small, hairy armadillo with the southernmost distribution of any species in the armadillo family. Like other armadillos, the upper surface of the pichi’s body, including much of the head, back, sides, and tail, comprises flexible skin overlaid with armour-like bony plates (scutes) and tough horny skin (2) (4). The scutes on the edge of this protective carapace are distinctively serrated (3). The colour of the carapace is generally dark brown, except for a white line along the middle of the back, and along the lateral edges and tail, where the plates are more yellow to white. Fine blackish hairs and long yellow, brown and white bristles protrude between the individual plates on the back, while coarse yellowish hairs cover the soft skin on the underside of the body. Powerful, well-developed claws extend from the digits of both the hands and feet. Compared with other armadillo species, the ears are very small (2) (3).

The pichi is found in the Argentine provinces of Mendoza, San Luis, Buenos Aires, and south through eastern Chile to the Straits of Magellan (1) (5).

Occurs in deserts, dry grassland and shrubland on sandy soil (1).

The pichi is a solitary, diurnal species that shelters in burrows excavated with its muscular limbs and long claws (2) (6). It mainly relies on invertebrates, but also ingests plant material, vertebrates and spiders, whenever these items are available (2) (5) (7). If confronted by a threat far from its burrow, the usual reaction of the pichi is to draw its limbs under the edges of its armour so that it lies flush with the ground. Alternatively, it will escape to its burrow where it uses the serrated edges of the carapace to anchor itself firmly to the surrounding soil or sand (2). The pichi enters hibernation over winter, a strategy not known in any other armadillo, and one which is probably critical to its survival in the southernmost parts of its range (6).

The pichi breeds immediately after emerging from hibernation in spring. One to two (rarely three) young are born following a gestation period of 60 days. The young are fully weaned at six weeks, at which point they leave the burrow for the first time, and become sexually active after nine months to a year (2) (5) (8).

Although the pichi is relatively widespread, its numbers are thought to be declining, primarily as a result of hunting for food and sport. In parts of its range, an unknown disease associated with rainy periods has led to increased pichi mortality, while its habitat is also thought to be locally threatened by livestock overgrazing (1).

Despite legislation that prohibits the hunting of pichis in Argentina and Chile, it continues to be targeted by hunters. Fortunately, it is present in many protected areas across its range (1).

Authenticated (14/09/2009) by Dr. Mariella Superina, Chair of the IUCN/SSC Anteaters, Sloths and Armadillos Specialist Group.

  1. IUCN Red List (October, 2008)
  2. Nowak, R.M. (1999) Walker’s Mammals of the World. Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore.
  3. Superina M. (2007) Natural history of the pichi (Zaedyus pichiy) in Mendoza Province, Argentina (PhD Dissertation). University of New Orleans, New Orleans.
  4. Macdonald, D. (2001) The New Encyclopedia of Mammals. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  5. Redford, K.H. and Eisenberg, J. (1989) Mammals of the Neotropics. Vol. 2. The southern cone: Chile, Argentina, Uruguay. University of Chicago Press, Chicago, IL.
  6. Superina, M. and Boily, P. (2007) Hibernation and daily torpor in an armadillo, the pichi (Zaedyus pichiy). Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology Part A, 148(4): 893 - 898.
  7. Superina, M., Fernández Campón, F., Stevani, E.L., Carrara, R. (2009) Summer diet of the pichi Zaedyus pichiy (Xenarthra: Dasypodidae) in Mendoza Province, Argentina. Journal of Arid Environments, 73: 683-686.
  8. Superina, M., Carreño, N., Jahn, G. (2009) Characterization of seasonal reproduction patterns in female pichis, Zaedyus pichiy (Xenarthra: Dasypodidae) estimated by fecal sex steroid metabolites and ovarian histology. Animal Reproduction Science, 116: 358-369.