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The Giant Armadillo, an Ecosystem Engineer

The Giant Armadillo, an Ecosystem Engineer

Have you ever heard of the Giant Armadillo?  You won’t find it in Texas where the Nine-Banded Armadillo is the only North American species, but you will find it in the wetlands of South America known as the Pantanal.

As the name suggests, these armadillos are pretty big, but as giant as they are, they have been largely ignored.

According to a report on Mongabay.com, the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland’s Latin America regional coordinator Arnaud Desbiez has undertaken the “first long-term studying of giant armadillos.”  His study is called “The Pantanal Giant Armadillo Project” and his observations so far have been amazing!

Desbiez told Mongabay.com, “Giant armadillos provide a very valuable ecosystem service to the rest of the ecological community: a shelter from predators and temperature extremes as well as new feeding resources.”

Desbiez discovered this by doing a long-term observation of the giant armadillo’s massive burrows.  Using remote camera traps in multiple locations, he was able to observe these 16 feet deep homes of the interesting mammal.

It is through these cameras that Desbiez witnessed how vital these creatures are to the Pantanal ecosystem.  These burrows become host to more than just the armadillo, offering protection and even temperature control to over two dozen species. The burrows have played a role in protecting lizards, tortoises, anteaters, pumas, birds, and even other armadillo species!

The burrows the armadillos create are so massive and host so many different species, that the giant armadillo is considered an “ecosystem engineer.”  An interesting term defined by Mongabay.com as a “species that drastically alters or re-creates its environment, impacting many other species.” Other ecosystem engineers include elephants, beavers, and of course, the largest ecosystem engineer, humans!

The giant armadillo burrow also plays an important role in maintaining, as well as protecting, the environment.

Mongabay.com reports, “Scientists theorize that giant armadillo burrows play a role in keeping water at bay on these islands, as well as impacting soil quality and plant diversity. Burrows may even act as catchments for seeds and organic material.”

Unfortunately, the greatest threat to these community creating creatures is a lack of awareness and education among humans.The giant armadillo is considered vulnerable and is believed to be in decline by the IUCN Red List.

This threat makes Desbiez’s research extremely valuable and highlights his more ethical approach to biological observation. Desbiez studied these fascinating animals in their natural habitats with minimal disturbance, unlike some other approaches to studying animals, where even similarities to human characteristics and functions just cause the animals to suffer more, like lab rats.

Hopefully with further observation and awareness by respectful scientists like Desbiez, the giant armadillo can continue to be an ecosystem engineer!

Image Source: Rich Anderson/Flickr

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