The Patagonian Piche: The Southernmost Armadillo in the World

The Patagonian piche (Zaedyus pichiy), also known as quirquincho, inhabits natural grasslands, shrublands, Patagonian steppes, and Andean valleys. It digs shallow burrows to seek protection from predators, extreme cold in winter, and heat in summer. This small armadillo with small ears and a serrated shell is native to Chile and Argentina.

The piche is the southernmost armadillo in the world, which is why it is the only cingulate mammal capable of hibernating in winter and entering a daily superficial torpor during periods of environmental stress.

Characteristics and Distribution

The Patagonian piche (Zaedyus pichiy), also called pichi, small quirquincho, or Patagonian armadillo, is a species of cingulate mammal in the family Chlamyphoridae that inhabits southern Argentina and Chile, from the Patagonian region to the Strait of Magellan.

  • Piches are small, furry armadillos that can be distinguished from other species by their short ears and serrated or pointed shell.
  • The color of the shell varies from white to blackish, with a lighter longitudinal stripe on the dorsal part.
  • The legs have strong claws that allow them to dig the burrows they use as shelters.

Evolutionary History and Ecology

This species has the southernmost natural distribution of all xenarthrans. It can be found from sea level to 2,500 meters of altitude in central and southern Argentina and Chile, and south to the Strait of Magellan.

A prehistoric mammal, piches belong to the superorder xenarthra or edentates, a group of exclusively American placental mammals that include anteaters, armadillos, and sloths. According to molecular evidence, they represent one of the four main clades of placental mammals.

Behavior and Reproduction

The Patagonian piche is a semifossorial animal with primarily diurnal and solitary habits. It inhabits shallow burrows to seek protection from predators, extreme cold in winter, and heat in summer. When threatened, it runs to hide in a burrow or digs a new one. It can also hide inside its shell and flatten itself against the ground, making it difficult for attackers to reach its soft belly.

This armadillo reaches sexual maturity at one year old, but some females do not reproduce until their second year. Females give birth to one or two, rarely three, pups per litter after a 60-day gestation period and produce only one litter per year.

Ecological Roles

Armadillos are generally known as keystone species for ecosystems due to the many ecological roles they play. The Patagonian piche, not being an exception, provides various benefits to the ecosystem it inhabits daily. One of these is that they are excellent pest controllers.

Threats and Conservation Status

The Patagonian piche is primarily threatened by climate change, as it is very sensitive to temperature changes, and by anthropogenic events such as roadkill, sport hunting or hunting for food (including hunting with dogs), illegal pet trade, land use changes, habitat fragmentation and displacement, and fires.

Globally, this species is classified as Near Threatened, as despite being relatively widespread and present in several protected areas, it is significantly persecuted, especially in its distribution range (northern Patagonia in Argentina), where many people value its meat and hunting the quirquincho is a relatively common activity.

This article is based on information obtained and modified from Ladera Sur, where you can find the original article and more details about the small Patagonian piche, the southernmost armadillo in the world.

For more information about the fauna of Patagonia, visit our fauna section and discover other fascinating species.

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