You read that right. There are approximately 20 armadillo species! They’re all cute, in their weird sort of way, and they all have protective armor. Each is unique too, one species screams, one is pink, and yet another can weigh up to 120 pounds.

Most Species Live in South America

Cingulates, as the armadillo family is called, are a diverse group of animals. However, you’ll only find two in central America, and only one has made the trek to North America.

According to paleontologists, the animal group originated there. But, as diverse as they are, there were even more armadillo species before the land bridge formed between north and south America.

Before the north and south became united by central America, all the big cat species were in the north and armadillos in the south. 

Cats being cats, they are curious. So they explored this newfound land with its newfound buffet-o-dillos. And, as they moved south via the land bridge, they decimated the armadillos along the way.

Myths & Legends

Known for their armored plating, native people’s of central and south America had beliefs surrounding these cute animals. Depending on which story you read, armadillos either started as benches upon which unruly gods sat; or a goddess who was late for a party. Regardless, they were vital animals for Mesoamerican cultures.

One story tells how the armadillo got its armor. It’s of a goddess who realized she would not finish in time while weaving the armadillo’s blouse for a party celebrating the world’s birth. 

In a rush, she put the blouse on the armadillo anyway. But it was still attached to the loom, and all the weaving shuttles still attached too – dangling off the blouse like armor.

Myths Aside, This is One Cute Disease-Carrying Critter

How can you not love these guys? Sure, they can carry leprosy, but we don’t have to touch them to love them.

“Wait, leprosy?” you say, “That disease that makes body parts fall off?”

That’s the one. 

You see, the thing about leprosy is that it has a specific temperature range where it can thrive – much like anything else. Armadillos have a slightly lower body temperature than humans, and that’s what Mycobacterium leprae loves. M. leprae thrives on temperatures just a bit below our average body temperature; that’s why it attacks lungs and extremities first. In truth, it’s not generally lethal to humans, per se; it’s the problems it causes that can kill. 

M. leprae causes you to lose feeling in your skin. Then, when you get a cut or a scrape, or something more serious, you don’t feel it right away. That cut can become infected, causing more severe infections that will kill you – left untreated.

That’s the thing. You get sick, deal with it – especially since modern antibiotics quickly and effectively cure leprosy. So, while leprosy does sound a bit scary, it is not the massive problem it once was. Of course, the antibiotics can’t reverse the damage caused by the illness, but you’ll live.

Don’t Mess with Armadillos

Sometimes it’s best to avoid the problem entirely – so if you see an armadillo, don’t cuddle it. See? Easy peasy.

You can admire their cuteness from a distance – much like many other wild animals.

One More Thing…

Did you know their closest relatives are sloths and anteaters? I’ll dig into them another day.