Can the Texas Nine-Banded Armadillo Really Cause Leprosy?

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The nine-banded armadillo is the only species of this small mammal (the official small mammal of the state, to be exact) that lives in North America. There are more than twenty different species of this animal, which are restricted to Central and South America, and they’ve caused a debate over whether they can actually carry and cause leprosy.

The Texas armadillo is known to average the size of a large cat. They can weigh between 12 and 17 pounds and have a length of approximately 2.5 feet (including their tail). Their mating season takes place in late summer and fall time, following which they birth identical quadruplets in the spring. But are these the creatures that are rumored to carry this contagious disease? Known to affect the skin, nerves, and mucous membranes, leprosy causes lumps on the skin together with dermal discoloration. In cases which are severe, deformities and disfigurement can result. Do we need to worry that armadillos transmit this disease? According to Science Daily, there’s more of a chance for this happening with the species in Central and South America, particularly around Brazil.

Video: YouTube/Brave Wilderness

Shared on the Brave Wilderness YouTube channel, this video shows the host relating to a nine-banded armadillo on location in Arizona. He touches it and even (jokingly) tries to share a meal with it. In truth, these mammals in North American locations, such as Florida, Arizona, and Texas, have been known to carry leprosy, but the likelihood of transmission to humans is limited based on their relation to and with them. Their diets consist mainly of grubs, worms, insects, and spiders, and for that, they’re famous for rooting around people’s yards (which has been a chief complaint of many). But, handling an armadillo is not something residents of Texas do on a daily basis. For the large majority, a chance meeting with a nine-banded armadillo is just that – a chance. They tend to steer clear of urban settings and stick mainly to rural Texas, where they’re free to dig, eat, and live in peace. The bacteria which causes leprosy is known to be transmitted to humans from nine-banded armadillos, however, instances of it are extremely rare. Does this mean we’re free to pick one up, coddle it, and care for them like pets? It’s not recommended. In fact, if handling an armadillo is an absolute must, it’s suggested that a professional be called and, at the very least, gloves are worn for this purpose. Further research will always be needed, and in the meantime, letting the Texas armadillo plod on through their lives is the best course of action. They’ll generally go their way, and you’re free to go yours!