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Red Squirrels as host of Leprosy

  • Context (TH): Archaeological evidence shows that English red squirrels once served as an important host for Mycobacterium leprae strains that caused leprosy in medieval England.
  • The medieval English city of Winchester was well known for its leprosarium (a hospital for people with leprosy) and connections to the fur trade.
  • Leprosy still remains prevalent in Asia, Africa, and South America.
  • Research in the last decade has shown that along with humans, armadillos, red squirrels, and chimpanzees can also be the natural hosts of M.leprae.

Red Squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris)

Red Squirrel - PMF IAS

Credits: BBC

  • Genus: Sciurus, Spread throughout Europe and Asia.
  • The red squirrel is an arboreal (dwelling in tress), primarily herbivorous rodent.
  • Long tail helps the squirrel balance and steer. It may also keep the animal warm during sleep.
  • Like most tree squirrels, the red squirrel has sharp, curved claws that help it climb and descend. The red squirrel can also swim.
  • Like human hair, its coat colour varies by region. It sheds its coat twice a year, switching from a thinner summer coat to a thicker, darker winter coat.
  • Habitat: Boreal, coniferous woods in northern Europe and Siberia.
  • Diet: Seeds of trees, fungi, nuts, berries, vegetables, garden flowers, tree sap and young shoots. More rarely, red squirrels may also eat bird eggs or nestlings.
  • Excess food is put into caches, called “Middens”, either buried or in nooks or holes in trees.
  • Life expectancy: If it survives the first winter, it can live up to 7 years in the wild.
  • IUCN: Least Concern | Appendix III of the Bern Convention.

Bern Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats

  • It is a binding international legal instrument in the field of Nature Conservation.
  • It came into force in 1982 to cover the natural heritage of Europe and some African countries.
  • It is particularly concerned about protecting natural habitats and endangered species, including migratory species of both flora and fauna.


Armadillo - PMF IAS

Credits: National Wildlife Conservation

  • Living armadillos are characterised by a leathery armour shell and long, sharp claws for digging.
  • There are 21 extant species of armadillo distinguished by the number of bands on their armour.
  • All species are native to the Americas, where they inhabit a variety of different environments.
  • Diet: Insects, grubs, termites and other invertebrates.
  • Armadillos have very poor eyesight and use their keen sense of smell to hunt for food.
  • Studies claim that humans gave leprosy to the armadillos, and now they have become the reservoir.

To know more, visit > Leprosy

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