As if an armadillo wasn’t strange enough already, this palm-sized creature ‘swims’ through the ground and its shell is so thin that you can see its blood through it
There’s a ‘fifth limb’ on its bum
The tail of a pink fairy armadillo isn’t like the flappy appendage found on most other vertebrates. Combined with a kind of bony plate in its rear end, it can compact the soil or sand that its huge forelimbs have passed back behind it, helping to clear the passage and ease its way through, as well as sealing the way behind it to prevent a burrow from collapsing.
It burrows as fast as fish swim
It might be tiny, but the pink fairy armadillo would make the most accomplished diggers of the animal kingdom look like novices. Its front paws and claws are enormous in proportion to its body and allows it to zip through sand and soil in seconds. It’s known as the ‘sand swimmer’ because it can burrow through sand as fast as a fish swims through water.
Its shell isn’t fully attached
The pink fairy armadillo’s shell connects to its body via a membrane that runs along its spinal column and isn’t anchored to its body with a mass of connective tissue the same way carapaces on other animals are. It allows the armadillo to curl up to protect the softer parts of its body on its underside and is quite thin – which leads us conveniently onto our next fact.
It changes colour with temperature
Because its shell is so thin and so well irrigated with blood vessels, you can actually see the blood through the shell, which is what gives the pink fairy armadillo its colour. In fact, the shell is too thin to be of any real practical protection, so it’s used for effective thermoregulation and will change hue with the temperature as blood floods into or drains out of it.
They’re related to giant armadillos
Despite the enomous size difference, pink fairy armadillos share a relatively recent common ancestry with the Glyptodonts. These were heavily armoured giant armadillo-like creatures that roamed the Americas around four million years ago. Glyptotherium texanum could weigh up to a ton, that’s around 8,000 times heavier than this tiny, mole-like creature!