Pangolins belong to the order Pholidota. In all there are 8 species around the world, 4 live in Africa and 4 in Asia. Despite all the scales pangolins are not reptiles, they are actually mammals. These solitary animals are active at night when they hunt for their insect prey which they locate using an acute sense of smell. If threatened they will roll up into a tight ball, sealing itself with its muscular tail. Pangolins around the world are coming under increased pressure due to poaching for food and use in traditional medicine.
A pangolin’s scales make up 20% of its body weight. These scales are made of keratin, the same protein substance which makes up our hair and nails, and of course rhino horn. There is no scientifically proven benefit of keratin as a medicine.
A pangolin does not have teeth. Instead its insect prey is ground up in its muscular stomach with the help of sand and soil which it is inadvertently ingested as it feeds.
The word pangolin originates from the Malay word “pengguling”, which means “something that rolls up”. This is in reference to how the pangolin will roll itself up into a tight ball as a form of defence.
A pangolin will walk on its hind legs using its front legs and tail as a counter balance.
As a pangolin feeds it laps up insects with its saliva covered tongue. Each time it brings the tongue back into its mouth the insects are scraped off by a bony projection and swallowed.
90% of a ground pangolin’s diet is made up of ants with the remainder being termites. In one year it may eat 70 million insects.
A pangolins tongue can extend 10 to 15 cm beyond its lips. It starts deep in the chest cavity where it is attached to the lowest part of the breast bone. This means that when it is not in use it can be drawn back in to a cartilaginous structure where it is out of the way.
The pangolin has one pup a year. The baby will ride on its mother at the base of her tail.