Giant Armadillo provides shelter for others

If you don’t already think Giant Armadillos are very cool animals, new camera trap photos have revealed that burrows dug by these awesome animals are providing places for many other species to rest and forage for food.

The shy Giant Armadillo (Priodontes maximus) digs a new shelter every two days, creating a burrow that is up to 5m deep with a large mound of soft soil at its entrance.  In a new study by the Zoological Society of Scotland in conjunction with the Brazilian NGO  IPÊ (Institute for Ecological Research) and a private ranch, camera traps have revealed that shortly after the departure of a Giant Armadillo from its burrow, other species quickly move in to take advantage.

In total, 24 different species were caught on camera taking advantage of the burrows including White Lipped Peccaries, Lowland Tapirs, Giant Anteaters, Ocelots and Crab-eating Foxes.

Data loggers placed inside burrows showed the temperature remains a constant 24oC, providing refuge from extreme temperatures for a number of species. The burrow also provides a safe place to sleep or hide but some animals, such as pumas, simply enjoy a rest or dust-bath on the mound of soft soil outside the burrow. Other animals forage for food like the adorably cute family of coatis that was caught on camera rummaging through the soil for insects and small lizards.

Listed as Vulnerable on The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, the primary threats to the Giant Armadillo are habitat destruction and hunting. As this species rarely comes into contact with humans, details of its life have remained a mystery to many but this new study has revealed a wealth of information and highlighted just how important this species is to its ecosystem.

Arnaud Desbiez, the biologist leading the study has described the Giant Armadillo as an “ecosystem engineer”, a key species that dramatically alters its environment and subsequently impacts on other species. Its burrows have a positive impact on the ecosystem by providing shelter and foraging sites to other species. Arnaud hopes that this revelation of their role in the ecosystem will provide the Giant Armadillo with greater protection.

View some great pictures of the animals and birds that use Giant Armadillo burrows in this BBC News photo gallery.

Read more in this great article and interview on Mongabay or view the original press release here.

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New species found in ‘lost world’

Three new species have been discovered in a remote part of Australia that is accessible only by helicopter.

A bizarre looking leaf-tail gecko, a golden-coloured skink and a boulder-dwelling frog have been found on the rugged Cape Melville mountain range located in the Cape York Peninsular of north-east Australia. James Cook University and National Geographic teamed up to explore a patch of rainforest on top of the Cape Melville mountain range where millions of black granite boulders the size of cars and houses are piled hundreds of meters high.

Isolated for millions of years, the newly discovered species are perfectly adapted to life among the boulders. Australia’s dry season is no problem for the Blotched Boulder-frog (Cophixalus petrophilus) as it hides in cool, moist spaces between boulders. During the wet season, this frog emerges to feed and breed, laying its eggs in moist cracks in rocks. The male frog then guards the eggs until fully formed froglets hatch out!

The discovery of the Cape Melville Leaf-tailed Gecko (Saltuarius eximius) has caused particular excitement as it is distinct from its relatives. With its leaf-like tail, excellent camouflage and huge eyes, this gecko hides between boulders during the day and comes out at night to hunt and eat on insects.

The Cape Melville Shade Skink (Saproscincus saltus) has also been found to be distinct from its relatives and unlike the gecko, this species likes to hunt by day. Its scientific name ‘saltus’ means ‘leaping’ and reflects the running and jumping movements it makes as it hunts insects across the boulders it calls home.

As surprising as these discoveries are, scientists are excited that there could be more secrets to be revealed in the lost world of Cape Melville.

Find out more and see pictures of these amazing new species in the original James Cook University press release.