The Pangolins are peculiar African and Asian mammals. Their bodies are covered with hard scales and they can curl up into a cute little ball in a defensive moment. Unfortunately they also have the title of world’s most trafficked animal. The name comes from a Malay word “penggulung”, meaning “one that rolls up”.
Once they have rolled up into a ball, it’s impossible to penetrate their sturdy scale shell. They look like something from a cartoon with a small head, long snout and surprisingly long tongue. Pangolins eat ants which they extract from inside the nests with their handy long tongue. Another name for this quirky little animal, is a scaly anteater. Depending on the species, Pangolins are between 40 to 50cm long, weighing on average about 1.5kg to 12kg. The Giant Pangolin weighs about 33kg.
#1 The Pangolin Endangered Stats
In total there are eight species, four African and four Asian. According to fossil discovery it’s speculated they may have originated in Europe. All eight Pangolin species are threated. They are listed in the IUCN Red List.
|Species||Scientific Name||Endangered Status|
|Chinese Pangolin||Manis Pentadactyla||Critically Endangered|
|Indian Pangolin / Thick-Tailed Pangolin,||Manis Crassicaudata||Endangered|
|Sunda Pangolin / Malayan Pangolin||Manis Javanica||Critically Endangered|
|Philippine Pangolin,||Manis Culionensis||Endangered|
|Tree Pangolin / White-Bellied Pangolin,||Phataginus Tricuspis||Vulnerable|
|Long-Tailed Pangolin / Black-Bellied Pangolin,||Phataginus Tetradactyla||Vulnerable|
|Giant Pangolin / Giant Ground Pangolin||Smutsia Gigantica||Vulnerable|
|Cape Pangolin / Ground Pangolin / Temminck’s Ground Pangolin / South African Pangolin / Steppe Pangolin||Smutsia Temminckii||Vulnerable|
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#2 One of a Kind
Pangolins are the only mammals covered in scales. Their closest cousins are carnivores. The Pangolin is covered in sharp, overlapping scales from head to tail. The only areas uncovered are the sides of its face, inner legs, throat and tummy. These scales keep growing in the same way as hair. While they are digging and burrowing, the scales are ground down and then regrow again. The scales contain keratin, found in human fingernails. They make up 20% of the Pangolin’s body weight.
But many people around the world believe that the Pangolin scales hold special magical powers, even though they are basically the same as fingernails. In 2017 the Cameroon government confiscated 8 tonnes of Pangolin scales. That means about 15 000 animals were killed to harvest their scales.
#3 Carrying a Shield on Their Back
Pangolin scales are excellent to protect the little creatures from predators. There are very few hunters that can penetrate their shield of armour. It’s only the big cats that can take a shot at attacking a Pangolin such as a leopard, lion, or tiger. Hyenas sometimes succeed in breaking through the scales. Oftentimes the predators simply give up after a few attempts.
#4 Adaptations for Survival
Pangolins are professional ant hunters. They use their specialized noses to find the ants, sniffing out the underground ant hills. Once they start attacking an ant colony, they are able to close their nostrils and ears to prevent a counter-attack from the ants. This is done with the help of strong muscles, specially adapted to provide this skill.
#5 The Boniest Tail in All the World
Another unique body trait of the Pangolin, are their bony tails. They can boast with more vertebrae in their tails than any other animal. A few of the Pangolin species also use their tails to climb trees, and it can support almost its full bodyweight. These include the Indian, Philippine, and Sunda Pangolins. The tree-living Pangolin has a semi-prehensile tail. The females can also use their tails for carrying baby Pangolins. The black-bellied Pangolin wins the prize with 46 or 47 tail vertebrae.
#6 A Sneaky Tongue
The Pangolin’s tongue is longer than its body and head! It is attached close to the pelvis, at the end of its ribs. This body feature is engineered to make them excellent ant hunters. Some Pangolin tongues can measure more than 40cm when fully extended.
#7 Another Unique Defence Mechanism
Pangolins use another tactic to deter other predators from showing an interest in them. They have a nasty smell similar to a skunk. It’s secreted from little glands near the anus. It is used both as a defence mechanism and to mark territory.
#8 Interesting Eating Habits
These intriguing little creatures don’t have any teeth. So Pangolins can’t munch their food properly. To counter this, they regularly swallow a few stones. Their stomachs are lined with keratinous spines and the swallowed stones then assist with the grinding of the food. This technique works similar to the gizzard of a bird.
#9 Versatile Travellers
Although many Pangolin species only live on solid ground, there are a few that traverse across land, trees, as well as water. They are very good swimmers. The Pangolin’s semi-prehensile tail works well to grip onto tree bark, as well as help with steering in the water.
#10 Build for the Hunt
Pangolins have sharp little claws, boasting with three per foot. These handy tools help them to tear an ant or termite hill apart, and also assist the tree dwelling Pangolins with better climbing skills.
When is World Pangolin Day?
On the third Saturday of February each year people across the world celebrate these curious creatures. World Pangolin Day was created to make people more aware of the plight of these little critters.