Pangolins are mammals of the order Pholidota. 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 centimetres (12 to 39 in). A number of extinct pangolin species are also known. The name pangolin comes from the Malay word “pengguling”, meaning “something that rolls up”. It is found in tropical regions throughout Africa and Asia.
Pangolins have large, protective keratin scales covering their skin; they are the only known mammals with this adaptation. 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, specially adapted 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 hunting and heavy deforestation of their natural habitats, and are the most trafficked mammal in the world. All 8 pangolin species are listed as threatened on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
What is a Pangolin?
Pangolins, often called “scaly anteaters,” are covered in tough, overlapping scales. These burrowing mammals eat ants and termites using an extraordinarily long, sticky tongue, and are able to quickly roll themselves up into a tight ball when threatened. Eight different pangolin species can be found across Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. Poaching for illegal wildlife trade and habitat loss have made these incredible creatures one of the most endangered groups of mammals in the world.
Most pangolins are nocturnal animals that use their well-developed sense of smell to find insects. The long-tailed pangolin is also active by day, while other species of pangolins spend most of the daytime sleeping, curled up into a ball.
Arboreal pangolins live in hollow trees, whereas the ground dwelling species dig tunnels underground, to a depth of 3.5 metres (11 ft).Pangolins are also good swimmers.
Pangolins are insectivorous. Most of their diet consists of various species of ants and termites and may be supplemented by other insects, especially larvae. They are somewhat particular and tend to consume only one or two species of insects, even when many species are available to them. A pangolin will consume an average of 140 to 200 g (4.9 to 7.1 oz) of insects per day.
Pangolins have a very poor sense of vision, and therefore rely heavily on smell and hearing. After locating their prey, they tear open theanthills or termite mounds with their powerful front claws. Their front claws are so large that their front feet are not useful for walking. The animal uses its long tail to counterbalance its torso as it walks on its two hind legs. After tearing open the ant or termite mound, it uses its long tongue to probe inside the insect tunnels and retrieve its prey. They have glands in their chests to lubricate the tongue with sticky, ant-catching saliva. The tongue extends all the way into a cavity of the abdomen and is longer than the pangolin’s entire body length. Pangolins lack teeth and, therefore, the ability to chew, however, they ingest small stones while foraging, which accumulate in the muscular stomach and help to grind up ants.
When is World Pangolin Day?
World Pangolin Day is celebrated on the third Saturday in February, and this year, the special day falls on February 21, 2015. World Pangolin Day day is an opportunity for pangolin enthusiasts to join together in raising awareness about these unique mammals — and their plight.