Could anybody possibly find this creature appealing? He has the words “hairy” and “screaming” in his name, and though he’s a mammal, he sports a carapace on his back, (a term we usually reserve for insects) and has scutes, a word usually reserved for tortoise anatomy. Is he a mistake of evolution? Quite the contrary!
The Screaming Hairy Armadillo is an incredibly cute and energetic little creature who lives quite successfully in the semi-desert regions of Argentina, Bolivia, and Paraguay. He’s the smallest of the armadillos – only about 2 pounds and 16 inches long at the largest, and that includes his tail. On a visit to the Reid Park Zoo, you might just get to meet Jovi in the Conservation Learning Center, with a helpful staff member to answer your questions about him. He’s a Screaming Hairy Armadillo, skittering around and exploring every inch of his temporary habitat. He can climb, he can tunnel, he can solve puzzles, and he does it all at breakneck speed.
Like all desert creatures, including those here in the Sonoran desert, Jovi boasts some amazing adaptations that allow him to thrive in a low-water environment where food sources may be unreliable. First of all, Screaming Hairy Armadillos require very little water to actually drink – they derive most of their water from plants they eat, and besides, they have highly efficient kidneys. Also, they’re omnivores, and like most animals, opportunistic feeders. They eat plants, small vertebrates like frogs, lizards, and rodents, and of course yummy insects. Their diets tend to rely more on plants in the winter, but in summer the insect and carnivorous delights are much more bountiful, so they adjust accordingly. They have unique hunting techniques which involve burrowing.
First of all, every good Screaming Hairy Armadillo knows that the juiciest insects are probably burrowing below ground during the heat of the day, so they have developed a unique digging style. Their good sense of smell allows them to locate prey underground, but to get to it they don’t use their legs (which are helpfully equipped with long claws, which you’d think would be useful in digging). Instead, they drill their adorable pointy noses into the sandy soil, and then turn themselves in circles to create neat cone-shaped holes. A less savory, but equally effective technique the Screaming Hairy Armadillo uses is burrowing under carcasses left by bigger desert predators, where they find a tempting buffet of maggots and other insects.
We admit the name is a bit unfortunate – but it’s oh-so descriptive. Screaming Hairy Armadillos DO have a lot of white and light brown hair, which projects from the scutes of their armored backs and from their undersides, too. This obviously helps with camouflage in the desert. As for the screaming? Well, you won’t hear it at the Reid Park Zoo, because it is widely believed to be a kind of distress signal. The Screaming Hairy Armadillo is a solitary creature, so it’s unlikely the screams are meant to warn others of its kind. But these unique creatures may be even more clever than we think – some scientists speculate that the screams they emit when caught by a predator are meant to scare them off – or to attract other predators to go after the first ones!