Sunday, May 6, 2007

Week 15 Adopt-a-Species

My dear friends at the Save the Giant Armadillo Foundation, I have been laboring for the past two months in research trying to establish an ecosystem service that is relevant to the Giant Armadillo; finally, I have discovered a way for us to raise the awareness surrounding the possible extinction of the Giant Armadillo. I am writing in hopes that my initial research may lead to a possible grant. In order to touch the heart of the people in the giant armadillo's environment, we must go through their stomachs. I purpose experimentation concerning the effects the extinction of the giant armadillo will have on the crops of the people in South America.

It is my belief that the giant armadillo plays an integral role in the maintenance of the local crops dispersed throughout its environment. It is documented that the giant armadillo exists on a diet of mostly termites and ants. I believe that the giant armadillo plays an integral role in regulating the populations of the insects. This position seems to entail that if the giant armadillo becomes extinct, the insect populations in these areas will grow out of control, destroying many of the native's crops.

My hope is that, with the help of your grant, I will be able to conduct an experiment to see if the exclusion of the giant armadillo from its environment will result in lower crop turnouts for the farmers in this area. For this experiment, my hypothesis is as follows: If the giant armadillo is removed from a set area of crops, then the production of those crops will be markedly lower than an area including the giant armadillo. It is my belief that this will in fact be due to the regulation of the insect population, but this aspect will not be measured along with the data recorded from the experiment.

The basic structure of this experiment will consist of two 1x1 acre plots of wheat. The plots will be marked off and fenced in, and the plots will be housed in air tight greenhouses. A mechanical mechanism is currently being implemented into the greenhouse schematic in order that the crops can be properly cared for and cultivated without interference from outside variables. One plot will serve as the control; it will be devoid of any giant armadillos. The other plot will have 3 adult male giant armadillos living within the fenced area. The 3 adult giant armadillos will serve as the independent variable. For a period of one year, the production of both crops will be documented. Termite and ant populations will be introduced in equal proportion in each field. At the end of one year, the dependent variable, the number of barrels of wheat produced by each crop, will be compared. It is extremely important that we keep the greenhouses devoid of any interference from outside sources, for the entire experiment depends on creating controlled environments that are as parallel as possible, not including the independent variable.

It is my professional opinion that, at the end of one year, the crops that were exposed to the giant armadillos will yield a larger number of barrels of wheat. Thank you for your time.


Joshua Nixon. September 14, 2006. Genus Priodontes. Dowloaded on March 29, 2007.

What are Ecosystem Services? . Downloaded on May 4, 2007.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Adopt-a-Species: week 13

As you have requested, I have provided a complete report on the fiscal opportunity associated with the selective breeding of the Giant Armadillo.


Kingdom: Animala
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammala
Order: Cingulata
Family: Dasypodidae
Genus: Priodontes
Species: Priodontes maximus

The Giant Armadillo has three adaptations that I think we made be interested in examining:

  • Its legs and tail are covered in tough pentagon-shaped scales: these scales protect the armadillo's under skin and may prove to be a tough material; these armadillos rely on the scales because they can't fully hide in their carapace

  • Digestion of termites: Giant Armadillos have a diet that consists almost entirely of termites. The armadillo's digestion system must be well adapted for handling large amounts of termites, and could possibly help in developing a termite extermination too.

  • Possession of large third claw: The Giant Armadillo has a large third claw which it uses to dig for termites. This claw resembles a spade, and allow the armadillo to dig efficiently and fast.

It is my opinion that we focus our attention towards the armadillo's scales. These scales appear to be extremely tough, as they must be in order to protect the Giant armadillo since it is one of the few species that cannot hide itself completely in its carapace. It is possible that through selective breeding, we may be able to harvest scales that are much stronger than the scales of the armadillo as it is. These scales could serve many purposes if bred strong enough. I personally think they would make a perfect addition to any home as an alternative to roof shingles.

The selective breeding of the Giant Armadillo could prove extremely troublesome. You see, the scientific community knows little to nothing concerning the breeding habits of this creature. There have been no studies conducted or research documented. In our best case scenario, we would be able to isolate pairs of armadillos that we considered to posess the thickest and toughest scales. We would then breed these armadillos together, in hopes of producing fertile offspring. Once the offspring reached sexual maturity, the thickness and toughness of the scales would be measured. These offspring would then mate with other like offspring, in turn hopefully passing on the trait of think and tough scales. This may become problematic though, as the Giant Armadillo is monogamous when it comes to procreation. It seems that the Giant Armadillo will not simply mate with any member of the opposite sex, as their monogamous mating habits make them very picky when it comes to choosing a mate. This could result in the offspring of selectively bred armadillos not taking to each other. It should be extremely hard to not only breed the desired adaptation, but also breed offspring that will necessarily take to one another.

In this process we also risk the possibility of creating a new species of Armadillo. Since we know virtually nothing about the mating and courting habits of the armadillo, there is a fair chance that altering its anatomy in any way may have unforeseen side affects. This may result in the armadillos with the new adaptation not being able to mate with the other armadillos. Known as reproductive isolation, it occurs when organisms no longer are able to reproduce. This becomes even more of a problem when we refer back to the selective mating habits of the species. The new armadillos could be rejected by the current species; when this happens, the new armadillos become a species of their own since they are only able to mate with each other.

In conclusion, I do not believe we should proceed with the research considering the selective breeding of the giant armadillo. There is already an extremely low number of Giant Armadillos, and the possibility of harming their reproductive processes does not equal a good result for the population. Also, if we were to extract the scales from the Armadillos, we would have to kill them first. This seems completely counter-productive, and any further discussion of this endeavor should be immediately disposed of.


Joshua Nixon. September 14, 2006. Genus Priodontes. Dowloaded on March 29, 2007.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Week 10 Adopt-A-Species Assignment

Report #1: The Society for the Conservation of the Giant Armadillo

Thank you very much for your ongoing interst in the preservation of the Giant Armadillo (Priodontes maximus). As I am sure you are very aware, the Giant Armadillo has become endangered largely due to the over-hunting of the species, which has resulted in a 50% drop in it's poulation over the past decade. The exact current population has not been confirmed, but it is estimated that in areas of habitation (certain parts of South America:Brazil, Guyauna, Columbia, Peru, Bolivia) there are aproximately 5-7 incdividuals per 100 km. To my knowledge, no succesful attempts to captively breed the Giant Armadillo exsit. It can be inferred that this is largely due to the monogomous mating habits of the mammal. It seems that due to this monogomous nature, problems at times arrise when two Giant Armadillos are paired together for maiting and they do not take to eachother.

This problem must be combatted in order to catalize the regeneration of the Priodontes maximus population. According to the resaerch done by Mike Rusollo, it seems that the captive breeding efforts of the St. Vincent parrot have encountered the same problems. By using the model described at , we could better aleviate the problems associated with random pairing.

DNA fingerprinting could be used to help facilitate this research into which armadillos will be the best matches. I am suggesting a study in which DNA is removed from both male and female armadillos that have been rejected by their sexual counterparts during pairing. DNA will also simultaneously be collected from both male and female armadillos that have a 100% success rate upon their first attempt at pairing. After the DNA has been collected, we then move on to the trement of the DNA with restriction enzymes. These enzymes act as genetic scissors, cutting DNA at specific nucleotide sequences, so that these fragments can then be compared using a radioactive probe that will allow us to note any differences between the armadillos that were succesfully paired and those that were not.

It is my opinion that the comparrison study will allow us to determine whether or not the probability of pairing succes is due to genetic factors or simply individual preferences. It would seem that if some common difference was found between the succesful pairing group and the unsuccesful pairing group, then one could infer that there exists a genetic predisposition as to whether a certain armadillo can be succesfully introduced into a pairing situation. If there is no genetic difference between the two, then it seems that we would simply have to endure numerous pairing secessions in order to find compatible matches.

Report #2: The Society for the Genetic Modification of the Giant Armadillo

Thank you very much for your continued interest in the genetic modification of the Giant Armadillo in regards to advancing its chances for survival.

As you may know, the regeneration of the Giant Armadillo species faces many problems. Among others, one such problem is that of the Giant Armadillo's low number of reproduced offspring. The Giant Armadillo usually produes only one or two offspring at a time, with the average being much closer to one. This poses many problems to the advancement of the population. If a birth is unsuccesful, then this usually results in a loss of 4-6 months of gestation progress. This problem is coupled with the fact that the mating habits and mating seasons of the Giant Armadillo are largely unknown. If an offspring is lost, there is no recorded time-table to refer to when calculating the armadillos next chance of conception.

It is my opinion that it may be possible to genetically modify the Giant Armadillo in order to increase its number of offspring per litter. A relative of the Giant Armadillo, known as the nine-banded armadillo, almost always gives birth to four identical offspring. Although it is not definite, there does exist the possibility that we could identify a gene in the nine-banded armadiilo that allows it to give birth to such a large litter. I believe we can utilize the process of DNA fingerprinting to compare the DNA of the Giant Armadillo to that of the nine-banded armadillo in hopes of discovering a difference between the two that may help us establish which gene aids in promoting the larger litter.

If it is discovered, we will then be able to genetically engineer Giant Armadiilo with this gene. The process would follow as such:

  • The gene responsible for the nine-banded armadillo's larger litter is isolated.
  • Eggs are removed from female Giant Armadillos, and the gene is then inserted into the egg's genome.
  • The engineered eggs are then fertilized with male Giant Armadillo sperm, and then incubated much in the same way as human "test-tube babies."
  • The fertilized eggs are then allowed to mature into suxually mature offspring.
  • The genetically engineered offspring are then impregnated, allowing us to see if the litter size is increased.

There may be some negative effects upon releasing the genetically altered armadillos into the environment. It is known that the diet of the Giant Armadillo largely consists of termites and ants. If these genetically modified armadillos were to be released into the environment, there stands the possibility that the termite and ant populations would suffer greatly. This would not only harm the termite and ant population, but it may also negatively impact the populations of other animals that rely on termites and ants as part of their diet.

The genetic modification of the Giant Armadillo could also lead us down a slippery slope. If any other species were in fact to obtain the gene responsible for creating larger litters, it would seem that this would create a problem of overpopulation. Even if it where only other species of armadillos that by some chance contracted this gene, it could possibly lead to the complete annihilation of the termite and ant populations. This problem would also be coupled with the possibility of these large populations of armadillos destroying numerous areas of fields and crops due to their incestent search for substinence. Both of these factors would no doubt contribute to a large change in the homeostasis.


Rusello, Mike. Undated. We Want Future Generations to Inherit the Parrot. . Downloaded March 29, 2007.

Joshua Nixon. September 14, 2006. Genus Priodontes. Dowloaded on March 29, 2007.

David Armitage. Undated. Animal Diversity Web: Priodontes maximus. Dowloaded on March 29, 2007.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Threatened and Endangered Species: Episode 1

(Photo Source:

Welcome back to Threatened and Endangered Species, I'm your guide Rip Pitman. Here in northern Argentina, we once again find a species that has found itself backed into a corner. Priodontes maximus, or the Giant Armadillo, once saw its habitat spread over many geographic regions. Now the Giant Armadillo is seen as rare even in its habitat, which includes Brazil, Guyauna, Columbia, Peru, and a few other countries in South America. But due to the pressure of extensive hunting in its original range, Priodontes maximus is now confined to very small sections of its tropical terrestrial range, and its in even smaller numbers. As you can see, this rare Giant Armadillo is often found in areas close to the water. It seems to prefer unpopulated forest areas, but has also been found in grasslands.

Despite its larger size, the Giant Armadillo is still a vertebrate animal, and contrary to its scaly appearance, the armadillo is in fact a mammal and not a reptile. The armadillo gives birth to live young. It is a member of the kingdom kingdom Animalia and domain Eukarya.

Priodontes maximus is known to eat primarily termites, ants, and other small insects. It is often found habituating areas of large termite burros, as termites seem to be its meal of choice. Though he doesn't look as though he would have that great of balance, the Giant Armadillo can actual raise himself on his back legs and balance with his tail in order to reach higher areas where he can ingest more termites.

As I noted earlier, hunters have caused extensive problems for this gentle giant. But hunters should not be the only ones interested in the Giant Armadillo. Bioprospectors could also find value. Bioprospectors make it their life's goal to find new and interesting uses for organisms, and it may pay to look again at the Giant Armadillo. This fact that Giant Armadillos are so suited for a specialized diet of termites could lead to something more. There could be some fluid or enzyme in the Giant Armadillo's saliva or stomach that allows for easy and conveniant digestion of termites. This could be researched in hopes of discovering a possible termite repellent.Sadly, the

Giant Armadillos may have another enemy just as dangerous as the hunters that have been decreasing its population. Due to its habitat consisting largely of areas very close to water, Priodontes maximus may have a fight on its hands because of global warming. Global warming is the raising of the earth's average temperature due to heat rapped in our atmosphere by large collections of carbon dioxide. Effects of global warming will no doubt effect the earth's water supply. The increasing rain storms could cause an increase in the water level, thus necessitating the Giant Armadillo's move to a different environment, possibly one not as rich in termite populations.

Even without the effects of global warming, the Giant Armadillo is considered endangered. Due to the extensive hunting by humans, the Giant Armadillos' numbers have slipped along side the habitat infringement. Many people believe that Priodontes maximus eats crops, but they actually only damage them when they are digging for termites.


Cuellar, E., Meritt, D., Porini, G. & members of the Edentate Specialist Group 2006. Priodontes maximus. In: IUCN 2006. 2006 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Downloaded on 25 February 2007.

Joshua Nixon. September 14, 2006. Genus Priodontes. Dowloaded on 25 February 2007.

David Armitage. Animal Diversity Web: Priodontes maximus. Dowloaded on 25 February 2007.