A Screaming Hairy Armadillo

The screaming hairy armadillo is protected by an armoured shell and a cry that might serve to scare away predators. Credit: Getty

Animal behaviour

Why the screaming hairy armadillo weeps

Local hunters help scientists to understand a generally silent creature’s loud ‘sobs’.

The forlorn sobs produced by the screaming hairy armadillo are a complex distress call made when the animal is in a predator’s clutches.

Juan Amaya at the La Rioja Regional Centre of Scientific Investigation and Technology Transfer in Argentina and his colleagues captured 28 wild screaming hairy armadillos (Chaetophractus vellerosus) near Buenos Aires and recorded the sounds the animals made while being handled. Using acoustic software, the researchers found that the weeping call is composed of several types of sound, with the animals making a number of individual noises as they inhale and exhale.

Credit: J. P. Amaya et al./ J. Mammal.

The scientists also interviewed local residents who hunt the creatures and could recognize their calls. The hunters reported that armadillos make similar noises when captured by dogs, suggesting that the sounds are distress calls.

Because screaming hairy armadillos are a solitary species, the researchers doubt that the call’s purpose is to warn other armadillos. The more likely explanation is that it is intended to startle predators, or to attract another predator to attack the first one.