The nine-banded armadillo is one of many unfairly stigmatized animals living here in Tennessee. It’s hard to avoid worrisome news headlines about armadillos carrying leprosy, a painful, disfiguring disease that we humans have feared for millennia.
It’s true that some nine-banded armadillos do carry the bacterium that causes leprosy. They first caught it about 500 years ago from human beings, which is actually very surprising.
Leprosy is a fragile disease that can only live in a very narrow temperature range, so it doesn’t easily jump between species. Most other animals have bodies too hot or too cold for leprosy, but armadillos, like humans, are in the “Goldilocks” range for this delicate germ.
Leprosy’s fragile nature means you don’t have much (if any) reason to fear that the armadillos living under your shed will make you sick. The bacteria causing the disease can’t survive long in the soil or air, so you can’t catch the condition without closer contact with the critters.
The best way to keep yourself and your family safe is to give armadillos some space and respect. Don’t hunt, skin, eat, play with, or move these animals! If you find one that needs help, contact a rehabilitator who can handle it safely.