Amidst the jungles of South America, armored giants with razor sharp claws lurk in the night. These creatures, about which almost nothing is known, are so mysterious that in many regions where they live they're considered more myth than reality.
No, this creature is not the Chupacabra; It's the giant armadillo. It turns out that world's largest species of armadillo also happens to be the most elusive. These animals might look and behave much like their more miniscule and more common brethren, but if you had ever encountered one, you would know the difference. They're huge, and can grow to roughly the weight of an adult human.
The good news is that even a creature as imposing as the giant armadillo looks pretty cute when it's just a baby.
At least, that's what scientists are discovering for the first time. It may seem hard to believe that an animal this large could remain hidden for so long, but until recently scientists had never filmed a baby giant armadillo in the wild. You can see some of the footage in the video at the top of the page.
The footage was captured thanks to an elaborate system of camera traps set up around a female armadillo's burrow. Researchers with the Pantanal Giant Armadillo Project had been tracking the female since January 2012, when they snapped some shots of her and a male in the process of mating (which was another film first!).
"Our team believed she was getting bigger, but honestly this was more wishful thinking than anything else," said project coordinator Arnaud Desbiez, to mongabay.com. Desbiez had previously expressed that a lifelong dream of his was to someday capture a baby giant armadillo on film.
That dream came true when, about six months after the initial mating event, a baby emerged, peeking its nose out from the top of the burrow. The research team was then able to follow the mother and baby for a time as they relocated to new burrows.
"Being part of this exclusive moment in the history of this species conservation and seeing the first picture of a baby giant armadillo was one of the most exciting moments of my career as a wildlife professional," said Danilo Kluyber, another member of the research team.
One of the main reasons this animal is so rarely seen is because it is nocturnal and hides in its burrow by day. Armadillos of all kinds are also a prized food item throughout their range, and if given the chance, many hunters would relish at the opportunity to bag a giant. Overhunting has decimated the giant armadillo population over time, so much that the species' continued existence could be in peril.
"Giant armadillos can go locally extinct without anyone noticing," according to a Pantanal Giant Armadillo Project news release. "In our study area in the Pantanal, many of the local people, some of them living in the area for their whole lives, have ever seen these animals."
The project is in a race against extinction to learn what they can about these shy, harmless giants. It would truly be shameful to lose all living evidence of these remarkable animals, which are magnificent enough for myth, before ever taking the opportunity to understand them.