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Meet Harriet the screaming hairy armadillo

Those who are natives to the southeastern U.S. are probably very familiar with the only member of the xenarthran suborders that call the Southeast home. Whether you recognize the word xenarthran or not, you most likely have seen one of these dudes, in proper shape or not. The armadillo. (The xenarthran sub-order also includes animals such as aardvarks, sloths and the most trafficked mammal, the pangolin.) This creature you have seen is called a nine-banded armadillo (for obvious reasons). Unfortunately for them, their natural defense of jumping up to four feet in the air, when used in this modern, automobile world can lead to a not so pleasant result. However, scientists study the nine-banded armadillo for genetic information as they always have four identical babies. Scientists also study them for leprosy research, as they have a much lower body temperature than humans and other mammals do, which makes researching and saving human lives that much easier.

As amazing as the nine-banded armadillo is, we don’t have any of those in our Zoo Atlanta population. The two species of armadillos that do call the Zoo home are the three-banded armadillo and the screaming hairy armadillo. Like the word “armadillo” translates from Spanish to mean “little armored one,” these two unique species are no different from our native nine-banded, or the other 17 species, and all have an armor-like shell on their backs. The three-banded is unique as it is the only armadillo species that can completely roll up into a ball. However, it’s the screaming hairy armadillo that is one of the oddest armadillos out there.

Like all armadillos, the screaming hairy armadillo comes from South America (the nine-banded armadillo may be known here in North America, but can also range into South America), and like the other two armadillo species we have already met, the screaming hairy armadillo was named as such for obvious reasons. Yes, she’s hairy. And yes, she screams. However, the scream is just a defense and sounds as though a Coachella disc jockey synthesized the long wailing call of a peacock with that of a baby’s cry. Our girl Harriet (the screaming hairy armadillo at Zoo Atlanta) has yet to be heard making this call, which is a great thing from the perspective of a care team member as it just means she isn’t stressed (another sign of her stress-free life is each morning when we check on her, she’s sleeping hard as a rock looking like a worn-out kid: all four legs raised up to the air, back resting amongst her bed of soft shavings and belly completely exposed to the elements of the world. If a person didn’t know any better, they might mistake her for dead). However, her wild counterparts don’t have such the glamorous life. Having to be on the lookout for predators and then also having to sniff around all day to find bugs and insects that could be up to six inches underground!

Harriet has a rather sweet gig here at the Zoo. But she’s not all lounging and waiting for her care team to wait on her for meals; she also has a very important role as an ambassador animal. Currently the Ambassador Animals Team is training Harriet to be the ultimate spokes-dillo for all armadillos around the world (or just North and South America, as mentioned they only live there). She is learning to do what we call in our line of work an “A to B” (basically she runs across a surface when cued). This gives the opportunity for guests, such as yourselves, to see an armadillo close-up and learn what a valuable resource they are to humans and the world. I’d hate to spoil all the amazing armadillo facts for you now, so I think I’ll leave you in suspense to encourage you to check out Harriet and her team at Amy’s Tree Theater next time you stop by the Zoo. Trust me, there is nothing as cute and amazing as watching loaf of bread-sized hairy-shelled-thing scurry across the ground. Come check us out!

Deidre O.
Keeper III, Ambassador Animals

Connect With Your Wild Side #onlyzooatl