More than nature is represented in the prepared skinof a pink fairy armadillo (Chlamyphorus truncatus) collected by the naturalist Louis Agassizin Mendoza, Argentina, in 1872. It recalls a deep-sea dredging expeditionaround South America on the steamship Hassler in 1871-72. Led by Agassiz and chronicled by his wife [Elizabeth Cary Agassiz, also a naturalist, and the first president of Radcliffe College], the expedition sampled life at the sea bottom and onshore, looking in part for evidence that Agassiz hoped would refute Darwin’s theory of evolution. … [This] specimen is a portal not only into natural history but also human history.

Agassiz’s pink fairy armadillo is an example of the objects that are featured in Tangible Things: Making History through Objects, an exploration of various collections from Harvard University that presents an innovative new framework for thinking about museums.

Photograph by Samantha van Gerbig. Do not use without permission.


Pink Fairy Armadillo (Chlamyphorus truncatus)

Also known as the lesser fairy armadillo, the pink fairy armadillo is a unique species of small armadillo found only in Central Argentina. Pink fairy armadillos are the smallest known armadillo, with the largest individual growing to around 4 inches long. They are primarily nocturnal and burrow near anthills, as their main food item is ants, however they will eat worms, snails, plants and roots as-wells. Like a golden mole or a marsupial mole the pink fairy armadillo navigates its surroundings via “sand swimming” using its powerful claws to move through the sand as if it was water, its pink back/head plates shield it from debris. Although the pink fairy armadillo is listed as ‘data-deficient’ by the IUCN it suffers from habitat destruction as cattle farms are taking over its natural range. 



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Pink Fairy Armadillo. The pink fairy armadillo (Chlamyphorus truncatus) or pichiciego is the smallest species of armadillo (mammals of the family Dasypodidae, mostly known for having a bony armor shell). It is found in central Argentina, where it inhabits dry grasslands and sandy plains with thorn bushes and cacti.The pink fairy armadillo is approximately 90–115 mm (3.5-4.5 inches) long, excluding the tail, and is pale rose or pink in color. It has the ability to bury itself completely in a matter of seconds if frightened. Images: Mariella Superina/Paul Vogt

This is the pink fairy armadillo, or pichiciego, the world’s smallest armadillo species. It lives in central Argentina and, excluding the tail, it is pink. When frightened it can bury itself in just a few seconds. Little is known about this tiny nocturnal creature, but in 2008 it was listed as a threatened species –habitat loss as well as feral cats and dogs have contributed to its decline.

Image: Cliff/Flickr and Nick Baker source 

Pink armadillos ain’t your Texas critters

Here’s an Internet bizarrity that you can believe in: the pink fairy armadillo.

It’s a real animal, the smallest armadillo species in the world. At about 100 grams, it would fit in your hands. It’s covered with “very fine, silky white hair,” says Mariella Superina of the CONICET research center in Mendoza, Argentina. And its hard outer covering, rich in blood vessels, can blush pink.

Full details of Chlamyphorus truncatus biology, though, might as well be a fairy tale. It’s known only from a dry, sandy swath of Argentina and spends most of its time underground. The pink fairy is so hard to spot that Superina and her colleagues are struggling to determine whether it’s endangered or not. She heads an international group of specialists now trying to assess the risk of extinction for the world’s 21 known armadillo species, plus their close relatives, the sloths and anteaters.

In 10 years of field work, she has never caught sight of the pink species in the wild. She has seen tracks made by digging claws and the diamond-shaped tip of its tail. After several meters, the tracks just stop where, she presumes, the armadillo disappeared underground. Locals, she says, “can track down any animal — except the pink fairy armadillo.” Occasionally someone captures one and soon panics about keeping it alive. These rare captives, she reports, usually live no more than about eight days.

Superina struggled to care for one such stray that couldn’t be returned to the wild. In 2011, she published a Zoo Biology paper largely about what it wouldn’t eat. In desperation, she discovered that it would slurp up a goop (consisting of milk, cat food and exactly half a banana) that had been mixed for a different species. The next stray fairy, though, wouldn’t touch the stuff. (Don’t even think of getting one as a pet, she says.)

During the eight months the goop-tolerant fairy lived in Superina’s home terrarium, infrared cameras recorded it moving below the sand surface. Biologists had thought the species “swims” through sand. No, Superina now says. “It was very funny — it digs and then it backs up and compacts the sand with its butt plate.” The video shows a pale, furry body digging and butting, digging and butting. The
flattened round rear plate used in compaction is unique to fairy armadillos. This rare glimpse may have solved a paleontological mystery, too: Previously found rows of compacted earth discs that look like slumping sliced bread may actually be the work of ancient fairy armadillos’ butt plates.

Hey, you know when you’re casually discussing pink fairy armadillos with illustrators from the other side of the Atlantic on Twitter and agree to exchange illustrations on that very theme?

Well! This is the resulting illustration. I was inspired by the animal signs related to Chinese New Year, though this year it is in fact the ‘Year of the Horse’.

I printed the illustration at postcard size, with a calendar on the opposite side.