Hiding out in tunnels below the desert sands of central Argentina is a creature so strange even its name is mythically inspired. It’s called the pink fairy armadillo and it’s about as elusive as they come. So you can imagine our excitement when we stumbled across this video of one digging in the sand. It’s just about the best thing we’ve seen all year.
Uploaded last year by YouTuber Willy Escudero, a clip from the video recently popped up in gif form on Reddit, and understandably the internet took a liking to this remarkable little sand-sausage.
Filmed in the scrubby grasslands of Mendoza, Argentina, the video shows a pink fairy armadillo doing what pink fairy armadillos do best: digging. The smallest of the armadillo species, the pichiciego (as it is also known) has impressive claws on its front and hind limbs which it uses to burrow through the earth, hunting invertebrates and munching on plant matter. In fact, these animals spend almost their entire lives underground – they’re so rarely seen that we don’t even know how many might be out there.
But surely there are dedicated biologists scouring the desert for pichiciegos, we hear you say. Well of course there are. Take conservation biologist Mariella Superina of Argentina’s National Scientific and Technical Research Council, for example. According to a piece published in Wired last year, she’s been researching armadillos in the pink fairy’s habitat for 13 years and “has never once seen one in the wild”. These creatures are seriously elusive.
So what’s up with the preoccupied armadillo seen in Escudero’s video? Superina has a possible explanation: “The majority of reported sightings we’ve received are from animals that were trying to cross a road or track, or appeared in the middle of a village,” she told Wired. “The most probable explanation is that the [pink fairy armadillos] encountered a hard substrate through which they couldn’t dig, emerged to cross the obstacle, and were seen by someone.”
It’s also possible that wet weather coaxed the animal out. Although the Argentinian scrublands receive little rain, when storms do arrive, they’re usually intense, soaking the armadillos’ burrows and forcing them to surface. It’s likely that temperature regulation comes into play here. It’s believed that their pinkish back-blanket acts like a radiator, allowing blood to be pumped in and out of it to raise or lower core body temperature. Wet fur can make that difficult, so the animals sometimes surface on rainy days.
And for the pichiciego, ground level is not a good place to be. Road crossings can be treacherous and the tiny creatures are often hit by vehicles, or possibly even picked up by curious humans eager to claim them as a unique pet. Sadly, Superina estimates that 95 percent of pink fairy armadillos kept in captivity die within eight days (just get a goldfish, okay?).
The IUCN lists the pink fairy armadillo (Chlamyphorus truncatus) as Data Deficient, which means “there is little information on the population status of this species, and its biology and ecology are poorly known.” While scientists do their own digging, we like to think there are actually hordes of these adorable animals flourishing beneath the Argentinian desert, enjoying midnight pichiciego parties and giving each other high fives with their crazy claws.