Pangolins are a truly remarkable group of mammals, which have lived on our planet for over 80 million years. All pangolins belong to the order of Pholidota. Though many pangolin species have already become extinct, eight separate species remain - four which live in Africa and four which live in Asia. To find out more about the separate species please go to our Pangolin Species page.
All pangolins have incredible adaptations which make them a unique and prehistoric looking group. They are completely covered in scales, which are made from Keratin; the same substance which makes hair, finger nails and rhino horn. When pangolins feel threatened they roll up into a tight ball, in fact the Malay word ‘pengguling’ which means "something that rolls up" is how pangolins get their name. This method of defence is so successful that even lions and tigers are unable to break through. Scales are quite heavy and make up 80% of a pangolin's weight!
They have long and sticky tongues which can be longer than their bodies, these are so successful that a single pangolin can eat up to 70 million insects in a year, and they are sometimes referred to as ‘scaly anteaters’. This way of feeding is so effective that pangolins have no teeth, making them harmless to humans! Though they have been known to use their large tail as a club to fend off other pangolins, especially during mating season.
All pangolins have nocturnal tendencies, however different species are adapted to live in a range of habitats. Species like the Sunda Pangolin are arboreal, meaning they live in trees, their long curved claws are perfectly designed to help them hang on to branches and roam the canopy! Other species like the Giant Ground Pangolin use their claws to dig burrows! All pangolin mums carry their new-borns on their tail, a trait which is unique to pangolins.
There is still much that we do not know about these mysterious creatures, though they are likely to have a very important role within the ecosystem. Unfortunately all eight species are under threat and if we do not act soon they are likely to become extinct. To learn more about the threats facing pangolins please check out our ‘Plight of the Pangolin’ page. We at People for Pangolins are determined to do what we can to save these amazing creatures, if you want to help us please check out our ‘Get Involved’ and ‘Donate’ pages.
Indian Pangolin defending itself against a Bengal Tiger at Tadoba Tiger Reserve Maharastra, India.
Photo credit: Dibyendu Ash
Source: Wikimedia Commons
The tree pangolin can has adaptations such as the presence of tail pads that help it climb trees.
Photo credit: Valerius Tygart
Source: Wikimedia Commons