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Chlamyphorus retusus - Fairy Armadillo


Chlamyphorus retusus is one of the smallest armadillos of the world. The total head and body length is a mere 140 to 175 mm. The tail length is around 35 mm (Nowak 1999). Their approximate weight is 100 grams (Parker 1990). These creatures possess whitish, woolly hair on their undersides and yellowish brown plates on a loosely connected carapace (Nowak 1999). They have a soft carapace that is entirely fused to the body with no shoulder shield and twenty-four mobile dorsal bands. Their carapace also has few fine hairs (Parker 1990). Chlamyphorus retusus has well developed pinnae (Slade 1891). They also have low metabolic rates and are susceptible to cold (Slade 1891). Chlamyphorus retusus has eight molars on upper and lower jaws, and the teeth have no true roots or crowns, but are encased in enamel. The teeth are long, cylindrical, and slightly curved and very deeply set. They have a thin zygomatic arch posteriorly, but anteriorly the zygomatic arch is better developed (Slade 1891). Chlamyphorus retusus is plantigrade (Slade 1891).


Chlamyphorus retusus resides in dry terrain (Parker 1990). They also live in dry grasslands and sandy plains that have cacti and thornbushes (Nowak 1999). They live in Chile at the base of the Andes (Slade 1891). Also, Chlamyphorus retusus are endemic to the Gran Chaco region of Bolivia and Santa Cruz and also live in Paraguay (Cuellar 2001). They generally live in southern South America in sandy soil regions (MacDonald 1984). The range of this species is restricted to the remote desert of western and central Argentina due to predation and human influence (Nowak 1999). There has been some discussion that Chlamyphorus retusus extends its region to the north of its normal range (Cuellar 2001). Hermann Burmeister discovered one of the first of this species in Bolivia in 1859. A native showed Burmeister a mummy of Chlamyphorus retusus, and in 1863 the species was first introduced to the German scientific literature under the name Burmeisteria retusa (Parker 1990).

Ontogeny and Reproduction:

Little is known of the reproduction of Chlamyphorus retusus (Parker 1990).

Ecology and Behavior:

Chlamyphorus retusus is highly fossorial and has adaptations to benefit its great digging capability. The humerus is enlarged and broad, the radius is small, and the ulna is flattened. The ulna has an olecrannon process that is just about as long as the shaft and the humerus has a prominent deltoid ridge. The third phalange is the longest of the five. The scapula is very unique to fossorial mammals. It has a deeply notched prescapular border. Also, Chlamyphorus retusus has a sickle shaped, elongated posterior border to the prescapula (Slade 1891).  It can dig very rapidly. To do so, the animal utilizes its rigid tail and powerful hind feet to move the earth that the forefeet loosened. As it enters the burrow, it may use its carapace to close the opening. They usually borrow near anthills. When startled, Chlamyphorus retusus lays flat on the ground or cries similar to human infants (Nowak 1999). It also has five powerful clawed digits for moving earth (MacDonald 1984). Its diet consists of insects, larvae, worms and small seeds (Parker 1990). Ants are their insect of choice, but they also eat snails, roots, and other plant parts (Nowak 1999).

Chlamyphorus retusus is rare and not many natives have even seen it. For example, during four years (1996 – 2000), eight greater fairy armadillos were found in local areas. When natives see Chlamyphorus retusus, they usually kill them. Armadillos are the second most hunted group. Although they are not hunted for meat, they are still killed by natives due to a belief that Chlamyphorus retusus is an omen of bad luck that there will be a death in the family. They are also killed in construction of patios or houses in areas where the soil is very firm and surrounded by sand. Sadly, out of the few species seen, only two have been seen, measured, photographed and released as of 2001. Even the locals consider it a rare species due to its burrowing and low populations (Cuellar 2001). Also, agriculture and plowing of land are a main threat along with domestic dogs. It is vulnerable by the IUCN (Nowak 1999). It is considered endangered, but there are no protective forces installed to protect this mysterious creature (Parker 1990).


Throughout my research, I stumbled across a plethora of names for this petite, rare creature. The scientific name is Chlamyphorus retusus, but I have also found the terms pichiegos, greater fairy armadillo, chacoan fairy armadillo, pichiego chaqueño, larger fairy armadillo, Chlamydophorus, Burmeister’s armadillo, Juan Calado (lacy jack), Burmeisteria retusa, calypothractus, culo tapado, and finally tatujeikurajoyava. I believe this is due to different languages (German,Hermann Burmeister; Spanish,endemic area), and the fact that few have been seen and studied. This has further led to the complexity of finding information on this mammal.

Literature Cited:

Cuellar, Erika. 2001.  The Tatujeikurajoyava in the Izozog communities of the Bolivian Gran Chao. Endentata: 14-16.

MacDonald, David. 1984. "Armadillos." The Encyclopedia of Mammals. New York: Facts On File, Inc.

Nowak, Ronald M. 1999. Walker's Mammals of the World. Baltimore: The John Hopkins UP.

Parker, Sybil P. 1990. "Armadillos." Grzimek's Encyclopedia of Mammals. 2 vols. New York:  McGraw-Hill Company.

Slade, Daniel D. 1891. On the Genus Chlamydophorus. The American Naturalist 25: 540-548.

Reference written by Rachel Halbert, Biol 378 (Mammalogy), University of Wisconsin – Stevens Point:  Edited by Kim Moore. Page last updated December 16, 2004.

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