Armadillos are interesting creatures, and either you think they’re adorable or you think they have a face that only a mother could love. But regardless of where you stand on their looks, the fact remains that armadillos have been pretty important in biomedical research. Did you know that armadillos have been important in the development of a leprosy vaccine, as well as the understanding of reproduction?
Usually, the bacterium that causes leprosy (Mycobacterium leprae) only grows on cooler parts of the body — think fingers, toes, feet, nose and ears. But armadillos have lower body temperatures than most mammals, so they develop the disease more quickly. They also contract the disease naturally; yes, there are wild armadillos out there with leprosy infections. By working with armadillos in the laboratory, researchers were able to develop a leprosy vaccine.
Another unique trait about armadillos is that they almost always give birth to four babies— identical quadruplets! Because of this, researchers have worked with armadillos to study reproduction in the hopes of understanding more about multiple births. Identical littermates are also great models for studying different drugs or treatments, because any differences seen are likely due to the experimental treatment instead of genetic differences.