Tongues tied around tatu-bola

Tongues tied around tatu-bola
Although they look alike, the pangolin is of the order pholidota, while the armadillo is classified as part of the order cingulat. A newspaper erroneously labeled the toucan as the “god bird” of the Jingpo people in Yunnan. In truth, that bird is the hornbill.

In the run-up to the FIFA World Cup 2014, Chinese football fans have been attempting to wrap their tongues around some of the exotic names from the national squads, with Sokratis Papastathopoulos and Lazaros Christodoulopoulos of Greece, and Reza Ghoochannejhad of Iran among those that have proved the most perplexing.

However, the most popular name by far isn't that of a human being, but a shy, retiring creature called the Brazilian three-banded armadillo, or the tatu-bola, which has been chosen as the mascot for the world's biggest football tournament, which begins in Brazil on Thursday. The name, which is Portuguese in origin, comes from the animal's ability to curl up into a ball, or bola, at the first hint of trouble. In fact, it's one of just two species of armadillo that can achieve this feat.

"It's the first time I've seen the name of this animal, and I have no idea how to pronounce it," wrote "Sweet Sugar" on her micro blog on Sunday. Her post prompted scores of comments from netizens, most of whom were equally mystified.

Having learned the correct pronunciation, many people turned their attention to gathering facts about the tatu-bola. Guokr, one of China's top websites for science enthusiasts, has published several short introductory articles via its micro blog in response to questions from the public about the living habits, diet and place of origin of the animal, known in Chinese as qiuyu.

Online sports chatrooms and Sina Weibo - the Chinese equivalent of Twitter - have been bombarded by football fans discussing the qiuyu. Meanwhile, on football.hupu, a popular bulletin board site, a fierce discussion has raged over whether the tatu-bola has blood ties with the Chinese pangolin.

Physically, the two animals have marked similarities: Both have long snouts, strong claws and the same sort of protective armored shell. To the Chinese, the pangolin is a familiar creature, partly because it has been used in countless cartoons, where its amazing skill at digging holes is fully illustrated, and also because its scaly epidermal armor is used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat inflammation of the breast tissue, among other conditions.

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