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Trapper's Corner: Armadillo: Survival Food or Poison?
© 2006

"Hoover Hogs", "Texas Turkeys", & Mycobacterium Leprae, Hansen's Disease, "Leprosy"

If you have ever traveled through the South-Eastern or South-Central parts of the United States then you have seen this animal. It is most often seen on the side of the road, splattered all over the place and known locally as "road kill". The Nine Banded Armadillo has a very hard shell. It thinks that its shell can keep it safe from anything, including cars. It's dead WRONG.

Dasypus novemcinctus, or the Nine-Banded Armadillo is the only North American mammal with a covering of hard, bony plates. Its head, ‘possum-sized body and tail are all armored. Only belly shows soft, light-colored skin. The central portion of the body is encircled by nine moveable rings – hence the name. It is a brownish-black color with yellowish spots on the sides. It has a long, pointed snout and a narrow head topped with erect, funnel-shaped ears. Adult armadillos may weigh from 8 to 17 pounds.

Armadillos have excellent sense of hearing and smell, but their eyesight is poor. Automobiles probably kill more armadillos than natural predators. Source:

Armadillos dig shallow holes in search of food, grunting like piglets all the while. When startled, they jump straight up in the air, then scurry into the nearest burrow. Armadillos are often blamed for declines in quail populations, but studies show that 90 percent of their diet consists of invertebrates, such as insects, earthworms, grubs, termites, spiders and crayfish. Experiments with caged armadillos indicate most don't recognize bird eggs as a potential food source.

Outside of the breeding season, adult armadillos generally live alone. A single armadillo may have up to 15 burrows (each eight inches in diameter and two to twenty five feet long) in its 10 acre range. Some burrows have several entrances for emergency access, but there is always a main entrance which the armadillo uses most of the time. Golf courses HATE armadillos.

While not as slow as the sloth, the armadillo rarely hurries. Walking on the soles of its back feet and the tips of its claws on its front feet, the armadillo ambles along at no more than a third of a mile per hour. However, the armadillo is able to run when danger threatens. Its hard shell allows it to run through thorny underbrush when fleeing predators.

The armadillo has a particularly interesting method for crossing water. Its heavy armor shell causes it to sink. When faced with a narrow stream or a water filled ditch, the armadillo will simply walk across the bottom, under water. However, when up against a wider body of water, the armadillo will swallow enough air to inflate its stomach to twice its normal size. This increased buoyancy then allows the armadillo to swim across. Afterwards, it takes the armadillo several hours to release all the excess air from its body.

An armadillo always bears an identical set of quadruplets, conceived from a single fertilized egg. The initial embryo divides in two and those two embryos divide, in turn, into two more. Thus, every armadillo is a clone of its three brothers or its three sisters. Source:

The armadillo is not native to the United States. It has migrated up from Mexico and South America slowly over the years. If you look at the map on page one, you will see dates when the armadillo was first identified in the various states. The slow moving northern migration could possibly be related to Global Warming because the armadillo cannot stand cold weather, and will die of the cold if exposure lasts more than a couple of days.

Florida has nobody to blame but themselves since the armadillo was introduced by humans around the late 1920's and 1930's. The RogueTurtle can vividly remember driving down from Indiana on the old Tamiami Trail (US 41), long before the interstate system was invented. At every gas station you came to, there were attached "mini-zoo's" to entertain the kids. They all had huge, ugly signs saying "pet the alligators" or some such nonsense. The more animals they had, the more signs they had. The armadillos were brought in from Louisiana and Texas without a thought about what would happen if they escaped into the wild -- which they did. They BURROW, you see. Humans are their own worst enemies. These "zoo-lets" were eventually shut down since the animals were living in horrible conditions, but the barn door had already been opened. Florida now has millions of armadillos ranging over the entire state.


These same type roadside mini-zoos later took advantage of the strange looking and slow-moving armadillo by catching them in the wild, cleaning them, drying their hard outer shells, and selling them as souvenirs at roadside stands and gift shops. Some of the meat from these newly killed animals was sold as either fresh meat or cooked up in the (attached) restaurant. Texas, Louisiana, Alabama and Florida all had their special recipes for the preparation of armadillo stew. (No, my mother would not let me eat any of it.)

Lurking in the dark recesses of the armadillo...there was a problem nobody knew about. Thanks, mom.


Leprosy is a bacterial disease whose roots can be traced back to the beginning of history. To produce a vaccine, the leprosy bacillus must first be grown under laboratory conditions for study. While the bacillus was actually isolated more than a century ago, it was not until the late 1960's that researchers discovered the armadillo as a model for leprosy.

The nine-banded armadillo is one of the few creatures other than humans that can be infected with the leprosy bacillus. Its body temperature is 90 degrees, 8.6 degrees lower than the temperature of most mammals, including humans. In people, the leprosy bacillus concentrates in the body's cool extremities, such as the fingers and ears, while in the armadillo, all of its lukewarm organs turn out to be ideal incubators for the bacillus.


Armadillos have been known to carry the bacterium associated with human leprosy (Mycobacterium leprae), but there has been no conclusive evidence that human beings can contract leprosy from contact with armadillos. The Field Manual of Wildlife Diseases in the Southeastern United States says:

...Whether humans can contract infection (leprosy) from armadillos is debatable, although case histories suggest that a few occurrences of leprosy among armadillo handlers in Texas may have been acquired during many years of catching, handling, skinning, and eating armadillos. A widely accepted hypothesis is that the organism exists in the soil in certain regions, especially Louisiana and coastal Texas, and that both armadillos and humans contract infection from this environmental source. Source:


After a lot of research on this subject, it dawned on me there is no scientific data saying Hansen's disease is associated with armadillos in Mexico or South America. So, the armadillo had to have picked up this disease AFTER it migrated to the United States. According to researchers, the armadillo was first spotted in south Texas around 1880. A time of large immigration into the area of Texas and Louisiana.

Suppose for a minute a lone immigrant (probably from a Leprosy endemic area of Europe or Asia), got very sick or injured, and died. Untreated, leprosy is an "ugly" disease that used to cause major disfigurement in the victim. This person would have been shunned by fellow travelers and was probably left to die by him/herself. We all know what happens when a human being dies and is not buried properly. Insect larvae and all sorts of creepy critters attack the body and feast on the flesh until nothing is left but the skeletal remains. What do armadillos eat? Bugs, worms, grubs and other disgusting things only a CSI could enjoy.

Remember, I'm basing my theory in Texas or Louisiana. The Mycobacterium leprae bacterium lives in a narrow temperature range of around 90-95 degrees Fahrenheit. Many times in both Texas and Louisiana the daily temperatures, including during the nighttime (when armadillos feed) will be in that same temperature range. If the corpse doesn't cool off and kill the bacteria, it will continue to live, if only for a short time. It is entirely likely a passing armadillo (or a group of armadillos) chowed down on the insect and worm population that was now ingesting the same bacteria that infected the corpse. The transfer was made to the armadillo too. The armadillos' body temperature is ideal for hosting the Mycobacterium leprae bacteria. The bacteria might even have mutated a little bit to adapt to its new host. The rest is history. A few armadillos passed along the bacteria from time to time during courtship.


None of the scientific papers I have found state that there is one point or condition that started infecting the little armadillo. One theory is there is something in the soil, particularly around wet or marshy areas of both Texas and Louisiana, that harbors the Mycobacterium leprae bacteria. This is also a possibility. Most of the Hansen's Disease victims who developed the disease within the United States, can trace their steps into the Texas/Louisiana area. Many were somehow connected to the handling or processing of armadillos over a LONG PERIOD OF TIME. (None of these victims could be traced to visits to Leprosy-endemic areas of Europe and/or Asia - the most common source of contagion in the USA for these bacteria.)

An interesting fact is that the Florida population of armadillos has a far lower rate (almost zero) of bacteria infection than does Texas or Louisiana. This tends to support the "bug-in-the-ground" theory, but nothing is least not yet.


In 1968, researchers discovered the Mycobacterium leprae bacteria in armadillos and started experimenting with laboratory-kept armadillos to find a cure for the disease. When it was later discovered by the press that the animals had the dreaded "leprosy", a huge furor took place and researchers were accused of letting the lab animals escape into the wild, thus infecting the whole armadillo population and threatening their terrified readers. Newspaper sales soared.

But, it wasn't true. In 1960 to 1964, before the first lab was even set up, scientists took blood samples from a large population of armadillos. These were stored frozen at Louisiana State University for 25 years. Later analysis would prove that 14% of these blood samples showed bacteria antibodies (signs of infection). This means that the "escaped" armadillos had nothing to do with leprosy in armadillos. But, it was too late to take back all the nasty words the press called the researchers.


Hansen's Disease is now totally curable with modern medication. The global spread of the disease has dropped by 90%, from 21.1 per 10,000 inhabitants to less than 1 percent per 10,000 inhabitants in 2000. There were 5.2 million victims in 1985 (world-wide) and only 286,000 cases at the end of 2004.

The new medications are working. No resistance of the bacillus has been detected like it has been for the flu vaccines. Most cases are rendered non-communicable in a few weeks, and complete cures are common within 1 year. No relapses have ever been reported. That's the good news. For the armadillo, it doesn't matter. Their version of leprosy is almost always fatal. Armadillos are still used by researchers today.

In humans, the disease attacks the extremities (ears, nose, hands and feet) first. It is thought to be that these areas are cooler than the core body temperature of 98.6 degrees F. The poor armadillo is always 100% in the 90-95 degree range. It only takes 6 months to 4 years for the disease to develop in the armadillo. In the armadillo, the disease attacks lungs, heart and brain, with fatal results.

Hansen's disease is a slow developing disease that takes years to develop symptoms in humans, but less time in armadillos. It is during this time the armadillo is potentially dangerous. While the disease is "incubating" inside the armadillo, if you handle or eat contaminated armadillos, you (POTENTIALLY) could infect yourself. However, IT IS NOT ALWAYS TRUE.


During the Great Depression, many starving families lived on armadillo. Jokingly called "Texas Turkey" or "Hoover Hogs", these little armadillos kept a lot of people alive. No studies were ever done concerning their later developing Hansen's Disease, but with the press attitude at the time, I can't believe a connection wouldn't have been made, if it existed, even years after the event.

Texas and Louisiana residents have been eating the armadillo for generations. Granted, they could by now have built up a natural immunity to the disease, but not all of them.


Is there a threat of contracting Hansen's Disease through eating armadillo? Probably yes. But, it's also just as likely you will get trichinosis from under-cooked pork. If you are starving, armadillo is just another food source. Humans take 3 to 6 years to show the first signs of contracting the disease and that gives you a lot of time to seek medical attention if need be. You will NOT get sick or ugly right away. (Unless, of course you are already ugly... :-) )


Live-traps baited with overripe fruit, such as apples or bananas, can be used to catch problem armadillos. The best bait, however, is worms. These traps are more effective when "wings" are added to direct the animal into the trap (see illustration below). Set the traps in the area where the damage is occurring, for example, around the house, in the flower garden, or in the vegetable garden. Captured animals can then be released in another area, or slaughtered for their meat.

Spotlighting and shooting armadillos at night is an effective and selective method. However, this method requires constant vigilance to find the animal. In addition, local regulations on discharging firearms may prohibit this activity. You can't miss them, they don't run away. They look like little robot vacuum cleaners rooting around in the grass. Walk right up to them and shoot them. Simple.

Armadillos will not "freeze" when jack-lighted at night (like deer) with even the most powerful spotlights. They just ignore you and slowly go about their business.

Kids can catch armadillos by surrounding them and catching them with long-handled nets. When cornered, the armadillo will many times curl up into a little ball, looking a lot like an armored croquet ball.


Armadillo Meat Balls
From "Complete Fish & Game Cookbook" by A.D. Livingston. © 1996

~ 1 lb cooked armadillo meat, ground
~ 1 egg
~ 2 tbsp minced celery
~ 2 tbsp minced onion
~ 1 tbsp minced parsley
~ 1 tsp salt
~ 1/2 tsp pepper
~ flour
~ oil

In a bowl, mix together the meat, egg, celery, onion, parsley, salt and pepper.
Form into 1 inch balls and refrigerate for 1 hour.
In a skillet, heat 3/4 inch of oil.
Roll the meat balls in the flour.
Fry the meat balls until brown.
Serve and Enjoy

Hickory Smoked Armadillo
Submitted by Shawn Burney

1 armadillo, cleaned and skinned
~ salt
~ pepper
~ your favorite seasoning, optional
~ your favorite bbq sauce, optional

Trim off as much fat as possible from armadillo.
Salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle on your favorite seasoning to taste.
When charcoal is ready, add damp hickory chunks and place whole armadillo on rack. Close lid.
Let brown on all sides. When browned, wrap in foil and place back on grill for about 2 hours.
When done, trim meat from bones and add bbq sauce for a great sandwich.
Serve and Enjoy!


2 lbs. armadillo meat
1 stick oleo or butter
Lemon juice
Dash onion salt
Salt to taste
Pepper to taste
Lemon pepper to taste
Season with salt, pepper, lemon pepper, lemon juice, and rub with butter. Wrap in foil and bake at 325 degrees F. for approximately 45 minutes. Remove foil, add more butter and brown. For barbecued armadillo, baste with barbecue sauce over grill after removing foil.


1 armadillo, dressed and cleaned
4 large onions
1 stalk celery
2 cans chopped mushrooms
2 cups rice, uncooked
Salt and pepper to taste
10 cups armadillo broth

Boil armadillo until tender; reserve broth. Remove meat from bones. Cut onions and celery and cook in butter until tender. Add mushrooms and meat and simmer for 5 minutes. Put in a large baking pan or dutch oven and add 10 cups of hot broth; add rice, salt and pepper; stir. Place in 375 degrees F. oven and cook until tender. Serves 12.


1 1/4 cups dry white wine
1/2 cup oil
2 garlic cloves, crushed (optional)
1/4 cup butter
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 tsp. thyme
1/2 tsp. rosemary
1 med. onion, sliced thin
1 armadillo, cleaned and cut into serving pieces
1 1/4 cups light cream
1 tbsp. brown mustard (e.g. Gulden's) or Poupon Dijon
1 tbsp. cornstarch

Mix all ingredients of marinade and add armadillo. Marinate about 8 hrs., turning meat occasionally. Remove armadillo and reserve marinade.

Melt butter in deep skillet and brown armadillo pieces. Pour in marinade and bring to a boil. Stir in seasoning, cover and simmer until tender (about 1 - 1 1/4 hours.) Remove skillet from the fire and place armadillo pieces on a warmed platter.

Mix mustard and cornstarch, then mix in cream. Return skillet to low heat and stir in this mixture a little at a time. Stir sauce until hot, but not boiling, and thickened. Pour sauce over armadillo. Serve with steamed rice.


Categories: Main dish Game Salsa/sauce
Yield: 1 batch

¼ c Salad oil
1 c Vinegar
1 qt Water
3 lg Onions; finely chopped

6 lb Armadillo meat
3 Pieces smoked sausage
½ c Salad oil
Finely chopped green onion tops
1 lg Green pepper; chopped
2 Cloves garlic; finely chopped
4 Celery stalks; chopped
1 4-oz can mushroom-flavored steak sauce
1 Onion; sliced
1 tb Salt
¼ c Pick-a-peppa sauce
Salt and pepper to taste
1 tb MSG
2 tb Worcestershire sauce
2 c Water
1 8-oz can mushrooms; drained
1 c Cooking wine
1 Bunch parsley; chopped
1 Lemon; sliced
Hot cooked rice

MARINADE MEAT SAUCE Combine all marinade ingredients, stirring well. Prepare armadillo meat by cleaning and cutting into serving pieces. Marinate for 24 hours. Remove from solution and allow to drain for 30 minutes before cooking.

In a heavy black iron pot, brown sausage and armadillo in hot oil, permitting meat to stick to bottom of pot just a little for extra flavor. Remove armadillo from pot and set aside leaving sausage in pot. Add onions, green pepper, garlic and celery; stir continuously, cooking until tender. Add steak sauce, pick-a-peppa sauce, salt, pepper, MSG, and Worcestershire sauce; mix well. Add armadillo and water.

Heat to boiling; reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Reduce to low heat and cover with tight lid. Cook until tender. (Do not stir but take pot by handle and half-spin from left to right every 10 minutes). Add mushrooms and wine; blend gently with a spoon. Sprinkle with parsley and lay thin lemon slices on top.

Simmer uncovered for 15 minutes. Serve over rice. NOTE: Clear stew meat may be substituted for armadillo, if desired. ~Liz Moore, Ouachita Parish (Monroe) from Foods a la Louisiane by Louisiana Farm Bureau Women typed by Tiffany Hall-Graham Submitted By TIFFANY HALL-GRAHAM On 03-15-95


"During Depression years, armadillos were hunted for food. In rural areas in the '30s they were mockingly known as "Hoover hogs" or "Texas turkeys." I've eaten alligators and a few other strange things, but even with the elaborate recipe I found, I think I'll pass on the armadillo. The recipes says, in part, that cleaning an armadillo is much like cleaning a turtle. (I remember mom and dad trying to clean a soft-shell turtle one time. That must have been a tough soft-shell. Before it was over they had the thing on newspaper on the kitchen floor trying to unlock the secrets. I think they threw out the turtle with the papers.) Nonetheless, when the animal is cleaned and the meat hunkered up, the work has just begun. First you marinate it in a sauce of salad oil, vinegar, water, salt and onion for 24 hours. Then you pour that off and drain. Next, place in glass container and cover with dry red wine for 6 to 8 hours. Drain. Brown with 1 pound of pork sausage. After adding many other seasonings and vegetables, simmer 1 hour. Then place in uncovered baking dish, cover with lemon slices and bake. By that time, any resemblance to armadillo should be gone."