Pangolins are armored mammals with large scales covering much of their body. They’re the only mammals with this type of protective covering. There are eight species of pangolin, four of which are found in Asia, and four which are native to Africa.
Scientific & Common Names
Genus: Manis, Phataginus, Smutsia
Species: P. tricuspis, P. tetradactyla, S. gigantean, S. temmincki, M. crassicaudata, M. pentadactyla, M. javanica, M. culionensis
Common Names: Pangolin, Scaly Anteater, African Ground Pangolin (Genus Phataginus)
Pangolins have long tails and long, anteater-like heads, and their bodies are covered in large, overlapping scales. The scales are made of keratin, which is the same structure that human fingernails and rhino horns are made of. Pangolins have large claws which they use for digging and climbing trees.
They can roll themselves up into a ball shape to protect themselves, and the name “pangolin” actually comes from the word “pengguling” which is Malay for “one who rolls up”.
Pangolins live mostly by themselves, and only associate with other pangolins to breed. Depending on the species, females may give birth 70 to 140 days after mating, and may have a litter containing between one and three offspring. Their scales do not harden until a few days after being born, and will not leave the burrow until hardening occurs. They go off on their own at around two years of age.
Pangolins hunt at night, searching for insects with their enhanced sense of smell. They use their claws to dig into ant hills and termite mounds, and use their long tongue to scoop out their prey.
Some types of pangolins live in hollowed out trees, and are good at climbing. Others remain on the ground, and are experts at burrowing tunnels which they live in. All pangolins are good swimmers.
Pangolins share traits with many other animals, and their lineage was a mystery for a long time. They have protective armor like armadillos, and are also known to roll up in a ball shape to protect themselves. They have long noses and long tongues like anteaters. They also emit a foul odor when threatened, like a skunk, and have sharp claws like sloths.
However, genetic studies have shown that they are more closely related to the order Carnivora, which includes wolves, cats, hyenas, bears, and seals. The orders Carnivora and Pholidota form the informal group known as “Ferae”.
Pangolins are hunted for food and for their scales, which some cultures use in traditional medicine, though it has not been shown to have any valid medicinal value. Pangolins are one of the most highly trafficked animals in the world, and it is believed that in the last 10 years over a million have been illegally transported around the world. They also face threats from habitat destruction.
All pangolin species are considered at least “vulnerable”; two are considered “endangered”, while two others are considered “critically endangered”.