Brazilian Three-Banded Armadillo
For use with Grade 4, Module 2
Brazilian three-banded armadillo Images
Brazilian three-banded armadillo description
Until its rediscovery in the early 1990s, it was believed that the Brazilian three-banded armadillo (Tolypeutes tricinctus) had become extinct (1). This species can be distinguished by its blackish-brown armour plating, which covers the body, head and tail. The plating on the body forms two domed shells, separated by three armoured bands which are joined together by flexible bands of skin. These flexible regions allow the Brazilian three-banded armadillo to roll into a ball, thereby protecting its vulnerable underparts. It is one of only two species, the other being the southern three-banded armadillo, capable of this remarkable feat. Other distinctive features of the Brazilian three-banded armadillo are the second, third and fourth toes of the hind feet, which are fused into a hoof-like claw. By contrast, the fore feet have five separate digits each bearing sharp, powerful claws (2)
Brazilian three-banded armadillo biology
Owing to its scarcity, relatively little is known about the biology of the Brazilian three-banded armadillo (2). Like other armadillos, the diet of this species is likely to comprise invertebrates, particularly termites and ants, which are obtained by using its powerful fore claws to tear open mounds (2)(5). It does not appear to seek refuge in burrows, and instead relies upon its ability to roll into an impregnable ball when threatened (1)(2).
The female Brazilian three-banded armadillo produces only a single young in each litter, which is born extremely well-developed, having the appearance of a miniature version of the adult. The young is almost immediately able to walk and roll into a ball, but remains with the parent until weaned at around 72 days old. Sexual maturity is reached at around 9 to 12 months (2).
Brazilian three-banded armadillo range
The Brazilian three-banded armadillo is the only armadillo species endemic to Brazil. While this species has probably disappeared from much of its historical range, it has been recorded in the states of Bahia, Ceará, Pernambuco, Alagoas, Sergipe, Piauí, Mato Grosso, Goiás, the Federal District, Minas Gerais, Tocantins, Paraíba and Rio Grande do Norte (1).
Brazilian three-banded armadillo habitat
The Brazilian three-banded armadillo occurs in two distinct regional ecosystems, the Cerrado region in central Brazil, characterised by savanna and dry-forest (3) ; and the Caatinga region in north-east Brazil, characterised by dry shrubland and thorn forest (4). Both regions have well defined dry and wet seasons (3)(4).
Brazilian three-banded armadillo status
The Brazilian three-banded armadillo is classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™ (1).
Brazilian three-banded armadillo threats
The Brazilian three-banded armadillo faces the dual threats of heavy hunting pressure and habitat loss. This species’ habit of rolling into ball when threatened means that it is easily caught for food, and it has therefore suffered heavy losses throughout its range (1)(3). In addition, its habitat has been degraded and destroyed by expanding agriculture, mining and charcoal harvesting (2). With a low reproductive rate, the Brazilian three-banded armadillo is unable to tolerate the overexploitation that is occurring and has been driven to extinction in several localities (3).
Brazilian three-banded armadillo conservation
In order to stop its rapid decline, the Brazilian three-banded armadillo requires urgent conservation action. It has been recommended that reintroduction programs be implemented to restore this species to areas of its former range, along with the provision of educational materials to highlight its plight and reduce hunting pressure (3). It is uncertain if this species is found in any protected areas, although it hoped that a population might occur in Grande Sertão Veredas National Park in northern Minas Gerais (1).
Find out more
To learn more about conservation initiatives within the Brazilian three-banded armadillo’s habitat visit:
- WWF: https://wwf.panda.org/wwf_offices/brazil/
- The Nature Conservancy: https://www.nature.org/en-us/about-us/where-we-work/latin-america/brazil/
- Miranda, F., Moraes-Barros, N., Superina, M. & Abba, A.M. (2014). Tolypeutes tricinctus. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2014. https://www.iucnredlist.org/species/21975/47443455.
- Nowak, R.M. (1999) Walker’s Mammals of the World. Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, Maryland.
- Marinho-Filho, J., Guimarăes, M.M., Reis, M.L., Rodrigues, F.H.G., Torres, O. and de Almeida, G. (1997) The discovery of the Brazilian three-banded armadillo in the Cerrado of Central Brazil. Edentata, 3: 11 - 13.
- Gardner, A.L. (2007) Mammals of South America, Volume 1: Marsupials, Xenarthrans, Shrews, and Bats. University of Chicago Press, Chicago.
- Macdonald, D.W. (2006) The Encyclopedia of Mammals. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
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