16 Interesting Facts About Pangolins. Scales, tongue and why they are poached.

16 Interesting Facts About Pangolins. Scales, tongue and why they are poached.

Pangolins are sometimes referred to as scaly anteaters because of their external that is filled with scales from head to tail, as well as their habit of eating ants and termites.

These shy animals are now popular as the world's most trafficked animal besides human beings. The belief that their scales are useful for traditional medicine in China, Vietnam and other Asian countries has created the demand for animal products through the illegal black market.

Pangolins are interesting animals that play an important part in balancing the local ecosystem and they should be known for more than the illegal trade that risks their extinction.

Here are some interesting things about pangolins that should be more well known.

pangolin head

Interesting Facts About Pangolins

1. What does "pangolin" mean?

The name pangolin originates from the Malay word pengguling which translates to "one who rolls up". This name is based on the pangolin's ability to roll up into a ball in the face of danger.

Other variations of the name from other Asian languages also retain the same meaning.

2. Pangolin species

There are 8 species of Pangolin 3 of which are found in Asia and the other 4 are found in Subsaharan Africa.

The Pangolins in Africa are grouped as  African tree pangolins (Phataginus) and African ground Pagolins (Smutsia) with each group having 2 species.

# English Name(s) Scientific Name
1 Temminck's Pangolin / Ground Pangolin Smutsia temminckii
2 Giant Ground Pangolin Smutsia gigantea
3 White-bellied Pangolin / Tree Pangolin Phataginus tricuspis
4 Black-bellied Pangolin / Long-tailed Pangolin Phataginus tricuspis

3. How big are pangolins?

Pangolins are small animals that can measure between 1 and 3 feet in length and up to 30 kilograms in weight.

There are 8 Species and the sizes differ according to the species and the sex. Female Pangolins are about 30 to 40 per cent smaller than male pangolins.

The table shows the length and weight of the various species.

# Pangolin Species Length  Weight Habitat
1 Long-tailed Pangolin 36 - 44 inches 2 - 2.5 kg Africa
2 Tree Pangolin 32 - 41 inches   Africa
3 Giant Pangolin 59 - 82 inches   Africa
4 Temminck's Pangolin 21 - 65 inches 5 - 27 kg Africa
5 Chinese Pangolin 16 - 23 inches 2 - 7 kg Asia
6 Indian Pangolin 33 - 48 inches 10 -16 kg Asia
7 Philippine Pangolin 22 - 70 inches 1 - 34 kg Asia
8 Sunda Pangolin 29 - 47 inches up to 10 kg Asia

4. Where are pangolins found?

Pangolins live in diverse habitats ranging from savannah to tropical moist forests as well as semi-arid areas.

The African pangolins are found in Western, Central, Eastern and Southern Africa. Here are some of the countries where pangolins are present in the natural wilderness.

Angola Benin Burundi Cameroon
D.R.Congo Gabon Ghana Kenya
Nigeria Rwanda South Sudan Uganda
Tanzania  Zambia Zimbabwe Namibia
Senegal Ivory Coast Botswana South Africa

5. Are Pangolins mammals?

Pangolins are mammals and their offsprings form and develop in their bodies. This means that pangolins do no lay eggs or fertilize externally. They reproduce the same way humans, zebras and lions do.

Because of the scales and physical look, it is easy to confuse a pangolin as a reptile but Pangolins are mammals. Pangolins are the only mammals that truly have scales on their bodies.

6. Which animals are related to Pangolins

Pangolins have no close animal relatives and while they have some characteristics resembling those of anteaters, and sloths, pangolins are closely related to carnivores.

7. What do pangolins eat?

Pangolins are insectivores and primarily eat insects. Their diet consists mainly of ants and termites plus other insect species especially larvae.

Pangolins are very particular and tend to eat one or two insect species even in places where there are many available species.

Pangolins consume between 140 and 200 grams of insects on a daily basis and are very important regulators of termite populations.

8. How do pangolins find food?

pangolin tongue illustration @pangolinSG on Twitter

Pagolins mainly rely on their senses of smell and hearing to find ants and termites. Their strong front legs and claws help them tear into termite mounds and anthills, or even move tree parts to expose insects.

Their very long tongues can reach into insect tunnels to catch insects that are unable to escape from the sticky saliva.

Pagolins have poor vision and don't rely much on their eyes for hunting.

9. Are pangolins dangerous

Pangolins are shy and harmless animals that aren't known for being aggressive in any way. They are mostly nocturnal and hide during the daytime only to feed in the night when they can avoid any trouble with bigger animals.

Pangolins are one of the animals that do not have teeth.

pangolin rolled up

While their claws are strong, they only use them for destroying termite mounds and climbing. Their only defence mechanism is to roll into a ball.

While rolling into a ball is helpful against other wildlife, this does, unfortunately, make it easy for human poachers.

10. Why do Pangolins have scales?

Pagolins have Scales for protection from predators in the wilderness. The scales are essentially body armour that makes up about 20% of the pangolin's body weight.

In the face of danger, pangolins roll into a ball of scales that is impossible for predators like lions and hyenas to kill.

11. Why are Pagolins hunted?

Pangolins are hunted and killed for their meat and scales. In countries like China and Vietnam, Pangolin meat is a highly sought after delicacy while the scales are used in traditional medicine and remedies.

While Pagolins are protected by national and international laws everywhere, the underground illegal trade is massive and sadly thriving.

pangolin head

12. Are Pangolin Scales Medicine?

Pangolin scales are not medicine and there is no scientific evidence to back the claims made by folk medicine practitioners and quack doctors.

Pangolin scales are made up of keratin which is the same material in fingernails, hair and horns.
In the same way, Rhinocerous horns are made of keratin, Pangolin scales are made of the same keratin that makes up your hair and fingernails.

13. Are Pangolins social?

Pangolins are not social animals and prefer to live a solitary life and only meet for mating purposes.

Mothers usually stay with their offspring until about 2 years when the young are sexually mature and gets abandoned by the mother.

14. How do pangolins reproduce

Pangolins often give birth to one offspring at a time after a gestation period of between 70 and 140 days. Pangolins in Asia can occasionally give birth to 2 or three offspring at the same time, but this isn't the norm.

Pangolins become sexually mature at around 2 years of age.

15. How many Pangolins are left in the Wild

pangolin walking

There is no exact record or estimation of Pangolins left in the wild habitats. This is because Pangolins are shy solitary nocturnal animals that are hard to track for the purposes of research.

Since they don't live in groups, monitoring pangolins is a hard task.

16. Conservation status

According to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), all the 8 pangolins species are facing a danger of extinction and therefore threatened.

Conservation research about pangolins is quite new but going by the number of pangolin scales seized on black markets around Asia, the assumption is that the populations are decreasing at a rapid rate.

It is estimated that more than 100,000 pangolins are trafficked to only China and Vietnam in one year.

# Pangolin Species Habitat Range Conservation Status Population Trend
1 Chinese pangolin Asia Critically Endangered Decreasing
2 Sunda pangolin Asia Critically Endangered Decreasing
3 Indian pangolin Asia Endangered Decreasing
4 Philippine pangolin Asia Critically Endangered Decreasing
5 Giant pangolin Africa Endangered Decreasing
6 Temminck's pangolin Africa Vulnerable Decreasing
7 Long-tailed pangolin Africa Vulnerable Decreasing
8 Tree pangolin Africa Endangered Decreasing

Final Thoughts

Pangolins are shy animals and like all shy animals, very interesting. With some adaptations of mammals and others that are common with reptiles, pangolins are great animals that need to be protected for the coming generations.

The illegal trade in wildlife products is a major problem for these animals and a big contributor to their decreasing populations. They are the most traffic non-human animal and we hope that this article can help more people learn that the scales are just made up of simple keratin we all have in hair and fingernails.

We hope you learnt something and your voice will contribute towards the protection and conservation of weaker animals and their homes. 

Feel free to share this so that more people can learn about these shy scaly mammals.

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