Pangolins or scaly anteaters are mammals of the order Pholidota (from the Greek word which means “horny scale”). The one extant family, Manidae, has three genera: Manis, which comprises four species living in Asia; Phataginus, which comprises two species living in Africa; and Smutsia, which comprises two species also living in Africa. These species range in size from 30 to 100 cm (12 to 39 in). A number of extinct pangolin species are also known.
Pangolins have large, protective keratin scales covering their skin; they are the only known mammals with this feature. They live in hollow trees or burrows, depending on the species. Pangolins are nocturnal, and their diet consists of mainly ants and termites, which they capture using their long tongues. They tend to be solitary animals, meeting only to mate and produce a litter of one to three offspring, which are raised for about two years.
Pangolins are threatened by poaching (for their meat and scales) and heavy deforestation of their natural habitats, and are the most trafficked mammals in the world. Of the eight species of pangolin, four (Phataginus tetradactyla, P. tricuspis, Smutsia gigantea, and S. temminckii) are listed as vulnerable, two (Manis crassicaudata and M. culionensis) are listed as endangered, and two (M. pentadactyla and M. javanica) are listed as critically endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species.
Amazing Facts About Pangolins
- The Pangolin, otherwise known as the scaly anteater, is the only mammal in the world to be covered from head to toe in keratin scales (the same as human finger nails). These scales account for up to 20% of a Pangolin’s entire weight.
- There are eight species of Pangolin. Four are found in Asia: the Chinese, the Malayan, the Indian and the Palawan Pangolin. Four are found in Africa: the Tree Pangolin, the Giant Ground Pangolin, the Cape Pangolin and the Long-tailed Pangolin.
- They inhabit tropical forests, dry woodlands and the savannah. Some pangolins spend their time up in trees and others sleep in burrows underground.
- They are about the size of a small cat, are covered in brown scales, and have long, strong tails that can be used as a weapon.
- The name Pangolin is derived from the Malay word “pengguling”, which means “rolling up”. This is reference to the animal’s defence mechanism of rolling up into a tight little hardened ball when they are under threat.
- Rolling up creates a hard, spiky, impenetrable ball that can defeat even the jaws of lions, tigers and leopards. However, by cruel coincidence, it is this same defence mechanism that makes human capturing of the pangolins as easy as picking up a ball.
- Like a skunk, pangolins can release a noxious- smelling acid to deter predators.
- Pangolins have a long sticky tongue that grows from deep inside their chest cavity and can extend to over 40cm, which is longer than its own body! This tongue is a perfect tool for catching insects. One Pangolin is estimated to catch a massive 70 million a year.
- With no teeth, and unable to chew, the insects are broken up by stones and keratin spines located inside their stomachs.
- It is unknown how long pangolins live for because captivity is traumatic for pangolins resulting in stress, depression and early death. However, the oldest recorded Pangolin in captivity died at 19 years old.
- They are nocturnal, solitary animals with very poor eyesight. Their sense of smell and sound is supreme and is used to hunt out termite mounds and ant hills.
- Cute pangolin pups hitch a ride on their mother’s tails for three months and remain in their mother’s care for five months before braving life solo.
- In some pangolin species the male can be up to 90% heavier than females. This type of uneven weight is called being “sexually dimorphic”.
- Sadly, this tough looking little mammal is on the edge of survival with some populations classified as Critically Endangered. They are the most trafficked animal in the world which has led to more than a million being stolen from the wild. The IUCN estimate that a Pangolin is taken from the wild every 5 minutes!