When you write about weird animals all the time, it takes something really special to make you ask, “What is that?”
That’s what I thought when I saw the pink fairy armadillo. It looks like a cross between a guinea pig and a shrimp wearing dragon-lady fingernails. So I emailed Mariella Superina, chair of the IUCN/SSC Anteater, Sloth, and Armadillo Specialist Group to ask about them.
It turns out that researchers don’t know enough about this central Argentina native to say whether they’re rare or just really shy. The IUCN Red List categorizes the species as “data deficient.” Even Superina hasn’t seen one in the wild during her 13-year-long career.
“The locals don’t know how to track them down in spite of having lived in pink fairy armadillo habitat for decades and having a wealth of knowledge about the local wildlife,” she says. “But I won’t give up up [looking for them].”
What scientists do know is that the pink fairy is the smallest armadillo, coming in at 3.3 to 4.6 inches (84 to 117 millimeters) long, not counting its tail. It has silky white hair and a pinkish carapace—a kind of outer shell or body armor—which Superina says consists of small bony plates and epidermal scales. The carapace gets its pink color from blood vessels close to its surface.
They’re also incredible diggers: Their longest claw is about one-sixth their body length.
Any sign of these [Asian giant hornets] in Europe? —Michael Clarkson
A year ago this week Nat Geo reported on the world’s biggest hornet, Vespa mandarinia, attacking and killing a number of people in China.
Entomologist Lynn Kimsey of the University of California, Davis says that there are a number of hornet species already in Europe, like Vespa velutina, that are responsible for several deaths. The most recent attacks occurred in April in France, according to the Huffington Post U.K. “Behaviorally [hornets are] all the same,” Kimsey says, which is “pretty aggressive.”
They are “ferocious predators” and people need to be especially careful not to disturb their nests, Kimsey warns. These nests “are either free-standing paper globes or built kind of like the common yellow jacket here [in the U.S.],” she says. (See a picture of an active hornet’s nest.)
It might not seem like there’s an upside to hornets, but they are important insect predators. If there were no hornets, we would be overrun with “flies, grasshoppers, moths, caterpillars, and worms,” Kimsey says.
Do alpacas make good pets? —Susan Moynihan via Facebook
Pet trends come and go, and it seems like alpacas are enjoying a recent surge in popularity. They are especially coveted for their feather-soft, hypoallergenic coats, which weavers and spinners can turn into scarves and sweaters.
However, veterinarian Meredyth L. Jones of Texas A&M in College Station has a few words of advice for those considering an alpaca as a pet.
“They are nice companions and have a lot of personality,” she says. Their coats make them great “fiber animals” and serve them well in their native mountain homes in the Andes. However, in warmer climates, they have to be shorn annually.
Also, if you’re in the market for an alpaca, don’t get just one. “They are herd animals and don’t do well by themselves,” Jones says.
If an alpaca is sick, “it’s standard procedure that the owner brings a second, healthy animal that lives with the sick animal here in the hospital because it makes the stay less stressful,” the veterinarian says. “It’s nice if it’s another alpaca,” Jones says, but they can bond with sheep and goats, too.
Jones also recommends researching the proper nutritional requirements for livestock and finding a vet who is comfortable working with an alpaca before you get the animal.