The pink fairy armadillo, much like the duck-billed platypus or naked mole rat, seems like a trick played on us by Mother Nature. It may look like a fantasy, but this rosy-hued little weirdo with a pink shell is the real deal; however, it is seen so rarely that it might as well be the stuff of legend.
In its native Argentina, the pink fairy armadillo is called the Pichiciego, but even the locals don't see them often. In the desert, where temperatures can vary greatly, the pink fairy uses its shell to regulate its temperature, and not as a means of protection as one might think. The pink fairy's only real defense system is that it spends most of its time underground. Burrowing only a few inches beneath the earth's surface, the pink fairy digs tunnels, eats ants, and otherwise evades humans. This tiny creature is the smallest armadillo, measuring about five inches long, which means it could fit in your hand (not that you should ever expect to see one, let alone hold it).
The known facts about the pink fairy armadillo are just as interesting as its unique appearance; it may be rare and virtually unstudied, but the pink fairy armadillo still deserves some love.
Although the pink fairy armadillo is totally adorable (in its own special way), you cannot have one as a pet, so strike that from your bucket list right now. The pink fairy can't adjust to life in captivity, whether due to its diet, habitat, or both. Most die after eight days in captivity. In fact, being captured by a human is one of the biggest threats to a pink fairy armadillo. When they have to surface to cross a road or run into some other blockage underground, they can be hit by cars or taken by a human - either one is a death sentence. They can't even survive in zoos, so chances are that you can't keep one alive either.
Mariella Superina, the world's de facto pink fairy expert, tried to rehabilitate a pink fairy that had been brought to her. It didn't go well. The only thing it would eat was a mixture of milk, cat food, and a banana. That pink fairy lived eight months in captivity. However, the next pink fairy had no desire for the goopy mixture. Picky eating habits is just another reason not to have one as a pet!
The pink fairy armadillo's shell isn't naturally pink - it's actually colored by blood vessels. The pink fairy can control how much blood is in its shell to regulate its body temperature. This is why sometimes the shell is pink and other times it's white, and it can change color very quickly according to the climate. Because it lives in desert-like climates, the pink fairy needs to store heat throughout the day to use at night, when the temperatures drop drastically. Elephants and fennec foxes use their ears to thermoregulate, similar to how the pink fairy does with its shell.
It isn't a sturdy shell, though. While you've probably read headlines about bullets ricocheting off an armadillo's armor, that is definitely not the case with the pink fairy armadillo. It has a flexible, soft shell, allowing it to roll into a ball.
We may not know how many young a mother has, how long the pink fairy lives, how far it travels, or how they impact their environment, but we do know that these tiny buggers can scream! Yes, a pink fairy that was observed in captivity would dart around screaming any time its environment was altered. It could have been stress, a warning signal (to other pink fairies?), or maybe it is simply how they express their feelings. We don't know.
Another thing we don't know? If they drink water. They've never been observed drinking water, although that doesn't mean they don't do it. Other animals who live in the desert can absorb water from what they eat, so it's possible that the pink fairy behaves similarly.
If you want to see a pink fairy armadillo, put it out of your mind. Even local Argentinians don't see them; in fact, the person who has seen the most has only seen a whopping 12 in 45 years.
This is partly because these little guys spend almost their entire lives underground. They'll burrow close to ant colonies, so they don't even have to come above ground to get a snack. Otherwise, they're nocturnal and only come above ground at night. And though they are endemic to Argentina, they're only in a few concentrated areas adjacent to Buenos Aires, Rio Negro, and Mendoza Province.
If you're really desperate to see one, then your best bet is to head to the National Museum of Natural History and check out a taxidermied pink fairy armadillo.